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It's time to get out the vote for W&M’s Agar Art entry

  • Bacterial emojis:
    Bacterial emojis:  William & Mary students Danielle Horridge ’17 and Danny Rosenberg ’17 created this set of emojis using different species of bacteria. The work is a finalist in an {{,Agar Art}} contest hosted by the American Society for Microbiology.  Image courtesy of Danny Rosenberg
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A team from William & Mary is a finalist in the 2016 American Society for Microbiology Agar Art contest, and your vote can help win the People’s Choice Award.

The idea, biologist William Buchser explains, is to make art in an agar plate, a kind of petri dish. Agar is a medium for culturing bacteria, which “bloom” in different patterns. Danielle Horridge ’17 and Danny Rosenberg ’17 created a set of emojis, rendered in bacteria.

“Danielle and I thought it would be fun to combine older microbiology techniques with something modern, fun and relatable,” Rosenberg said in an email. “Microorganisms tend to be falsely represented as either boring compared to our cells, or as only being dangerous pathogens that we have to avoid at all costs. In reality, bacteria are an important and vibrant component of not just our bodies, but also food, medicine and the economy.”

The art was done in Visiting Assistant Professor Katherine Miller’s Microbiology course, according to Institutional Biosafety Committee protocols. Using sterile toothpicks, the agar artists worked from an extensive bacterial palette. Serratia marcescens provided red “ink;” Chromobacterium violaceum, purple/black; Escherichia coli, blue; Micrococcus luteus, yellow; Micrococcus roseus, pink; and Staphylococcus epidermidis, white.

“They ‘painted’ with a toothpick in invisible ink — bacteria,” Buchser, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Biology, explained. “Later, those bacteria grew and made this art!”

Horridge and Rosenberg titled their entry “The Emojis of Our Lives,” noting that the digital symbols have become a part of the language. Their submission points out that Oxford dictionaries even named an emoji ("Face with Tears of Joy") its Word of the Year for 2015.

“These icons have become widely used by celebrities, politicians, and major brands across the internet,” Horridge and Rosenberg wrote in their submission. “Microbiology has similarly seen a significant resurgence in the public eye. From the human microbiome to antibiotic resistance to rapid developments in biotechnology, it is important to remember that bacteria that we can’t necessarily see impact the way we interact with the world in every way.”

The ASM received 117 entries from around the world. A panel of judges will award first, second and third prizes. People’s Choice will go to the entry that receives the most “likes” on the ASM’s Agar Art Facebook Page. Entries are presented anonymously, without artists or their institutions mentioned, but the William & Mary entry is here.

Judging ends May 26.