What is Agar Art?

by Annie Saxena on Mar 21, 2023

What is Agar Art?

Microorganisms are cultured in certain patterns to produce artwork known as microbial art, agar art, or germ art. The microbes utilized can be bacteria, yeast, fungus, or less typically, protists. The bacteria may be chosen for their inherent coloration or may be genetically modified to express fluorescent proteins, which will cause them to fluoresce when examined under ultraviolet light. Pigmented or fluorescent bacteria and yeasts act as the paint, and agar plates serve as the canvas. After a suitable amount of incubation, epoxy is used to seal the microbe culture in order to preserve the work of microbial art.

Have you ever witnessed living, developing microorganisms being used to produce art in a petri dish? Agar art that! The creators employ different kinds, forms, and sizes of agar as a "canvas" with either naturally colored microbes, such the red bacteria Serratia marcescens, or genetically modified microbes, like the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae altered with violacein genes. In actuality, none other than Alexander Fleming himself was the first agar artist!

What is Agar Art?

The manipulation of bacterial colonies on agar plates is the process used to create agar art. In laboratories, agar, a jelly-like substance derived from seaweed, is frequently employed as a medium for the development of microorganisms. Applying various microorganisms in patterns or shapes to the surface of an agar plate requires the use of sterile instruments. The rich and vibrant patterns that the bacteria produce as they expand can be photographed and preserved in other ways. Agar art is a distinctive and exciting approach to mix art and science, and it has grown in acceptance as a productive outlet for both scientists and artists in recent years.

Who Created Agar Art?

Agar is used as a growing medium for bacterial or fungal cultures that are then arranged in a pattern or design to make agar art. Although the history of agar art is unclear, it is thought to have gained popularity thanks to microbiologists who employed agar as a medium for cultivating bacterial cultures in the lab.

Agar art is a technique used by artists and science enthusiasts to produce elaborate and vibrant images by controlling the growth of bacterial or fungal cultures on agar plates. It has become more and more popular in recent years. The process has changed from a scientific procedure to a creative medium used by people all over the world, even if it is difficult to identify a single person as the creator of agar art.

Which Bacteria is Used in Agar Art?

Depending on the required colors and patterns, many bacteria can be employed to create agar art. Among the microorganisms frequently utilized in agar art are:

A gram-negative bacteria called Serratia marcescens makes red pigment.

A gram-negative bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa makes a blue-green pigment.

Bacillus subtilis is a gram-positive bacteria that can be used as a background since it forms white colonies.

Escherichia coli, a gram-negative bacterium that can express fluorescent proteins when genetically engineered and can create a variety of colors depending on the strain.

Aspergillus niger and Penicillium are two fungi that can be utilized in agar art to produce complex patterns and designs. It is crucial to remember that using live cultures necessitates taking the right safety procedures to prevent contamination and infection.

What are the Different Types of Agar Art?

Agar art can take on a variety of forms, with the design changing according to the bacteria or fungi utilized, the instruments employed to control the development, and the creator's creative vision. Some of the most popular forms of agar art are listed below:

Striking various bacterial cultures on a plate in a specific pattern to produce a design is known as streak plate art.

Swab painting is the process of painting a pattern on an agar surface using a cotton swab that has been dipped in bacterial or fungal culture.

Drop painting is the process of applying tiny drops of bacterial or fungal cultures to the surface of agar to produce a vibrant and detailed design.

Agar is a media that some artists employ to create three-dimensional sculptures of items, such as animals and landscapes.

Microbial graffiti: In this style of agar art, the words or elaborate patterns are "written" on the agar surface by bacteria or fungi.

Agar art is a distinctive kind of art that mixes creativity and science and is always changing as new methods and concepts are developed.

How to Create Agar Art?

The preparation of the agar plates, inoculation with bacteria or fungi, and manipulation of the growth to produce a design are all steps in the process of creating agar art. The general procedures for making agar art are as follows:

Get agar plates ready: Typically, agar plates are made by sterilizing an agar and nutrient solution on a petri dish. Once the agar mixture is liquid, it is placed into the petri dish and given time to cool and solidify.

Inoculate the plates: Using a sterile loop or swab, inoculate the agar plates with a little amount of bacterial or fungal culture after they have set. The plates that have been inoculated are then kept in an incubator at the right temperature and humidity levels for the organism to develop.

Manipulate the growth: After the bacteria or fungi have developed on the agar surface, the artist can start manipulating the development to produce a design. To do this, apply the bacterial or fungal cultures to the surface of the agar using a number of equipment, such as cotton swabs, pipettes, or toothpicks.

After the design is finished, the agar plate is incubated once more to allow the bacterial or fungal growth to mature. Then it is photographed. The finished agar art can be photographed or displayed, but it shouldn't be eaten because it might contain dangerous bacteria.

To prevent contaminating the cultures and maintain safety, it is crucial to follow appropriate laboratory safety procedures and work in a sterile atmosphere.

What Media is Agar Art?

Agar is a solid culture medium that is frequently used in microbiology to grow and cultivate microorganisms. Agar is a sort of solid culture media manufactured from seaweed extracts. Because agar is transparent, the growth patterns of bacteria and fungi can be seen clearly and it offers a nutrient-rich and stable environment for them to thrive in. The growth of various microbes can be supported by combining agar with a range of nutrients, and the visual appeal of the artwork can be improved by adding colors or pigments to the mixture.

Agar is a versatile media that may be used to modify the growth patterns of bacteria and fungi to produce stunning and complicated artwork.

What are the Techniques Used in Agar Art?

Agar art use a variety of methods to produce different patterns and designs. The following are some of the most popular methods:

Streaking: Streaking is the process of spreading bacterial or fungal cultures across the top of an agar plate in a predetermined pattern or direction using a sterile loop or needle. This method is frequently employed to draw lines and shapes as well as color gradients.

Painting: Painting is the process of depositing the bacterial or fungal culture onto the agar surface using a sterile cotton swab, paintbrush, or pipette in a predetermined pattern. This method is frequently employed to produce intricate motifs and forms.

Dropping: Dropping is the process of applying a small amount of bacterial or fungal culture to the surface of agar in a predetermined pattern or arrangement using a sterile pipette. This method is frequently employed to provide a cosmic or starry effect.

Agar is a sculpting substance that can be used to create three-dimensional shapes and motifs. It takes a steady hand and a lot of patience to use this technique.

Etching: To create elaborate designs and patterns, the agar surface is scraped or sliced into using a sterile needle or scalpel. This method calls for dexterity and aptitude.

Overall, it takes a lot of work and experimenting to master the techniques employed in agar art, but the outcomes can be very unique and wonderful.

What is the Purpose of the Agar Art?

Agar art uses the patterns of bacterial and fungal growth on agar plates to produce stunning and complicated designs, with a primary focus on aesthetics. The relevance of microbiology and the function of microbes in our world are brought to the public's attention through the medium of agar art, which offers a novel and creative means of doing so. Agar art can be used as a teaching tool in science classes to help students learn about microbiology, microbial development, and the value of sterile laboratory procedures in an interesting and interactive way. Moreover, agar art can encourage inventiveness and multidisciplinary cooperation between artists, scientists, and other experts.

Who can Create Agar Art?

Agar art may be made by anyone with the correct tools and information. Agar art is a distinctive fusion of art and science that necessitates a basic understanding of microbiology as well as laboratory proficiency to assure both the artist's safety and the integrity of the cultures utilized. The skills and safety measures required to create agar art can, however, be learned by beginners with the use of online resources like tutorials and instructional videos. Anyone interested in studying the fusion of art and science can create agar art, including artists, scientists, students, and educators. Agar art is a beautiful method to study the world of microbiology because it can be customized to the creator's creativity and interests.

What Makes Agar Art Unique from Different Art form?

Agar art differs from other types of art in a number of ways. Some of the salient features that set agar art apart include the following:

Living thing: Agar art uses a living medium, as opposed to conventional art forms that use inert materials, therefore the artwork is continually altering and evolving as the bacteria grow and evolve.

Scientific support: In order to create agar art, one must have a fundamental understanding of microbiology and laboratory procedures. Agar plates are used in the creative process to manipulate the development of bacteria and fungi, which calls for exact control and sterile conditions.

Agar art is interactive in that it encourages viewers to interact with the piece on a deeper level by observing the patterns of bacterial and fungal development and thinking about the complexity and beauty of microbial life.

Multidisciplinary: Interdisciplinary art is a rare fusion of art and science that involves both creative and scientific abilities. Artists, scientists, and other professionals may work together in this process, opening doors for multidisciplinary cooperation and creativity.

Agar art is a distinct and cutting-edge art style that challenges conventional ideas of art by fusing live things and scientific principles into the creative process. In addition to encouraging interdisciplinary cooperation, it offers a platform for investigating the complexity and beauty of microbial life.


Artwork made by cultivating microorganisms in certain patterns is known as agar art, microbial art, or germ art. The microbes used can be protists, yeast, bacteria, or fungi (less commonly). The natural colors of the bacteria can be used to choose them. As seen in the above image, the organisms that are most frequently used and accessible are Serratia marcescens, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus. Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin in the 1920s, started creating "germ paintings" of bacteria during his career as a microbiologist, so painting with germs isn't wholly new.

Similarly, green fluorescent protein (GFP) was discovered by scientist Roger Tsien, who received the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his contributions to this field. Nathan Shaner, a researcher, created a microbial artwork depicting a San Diego beach scene in 2006 using GFP.