News blog

Van Gogh, Picasso, Pollock, and … Serratia marcescens?

Although they can’t pick up a brush, bacteria have created their own painting for the first time.

Simon Park, a microbiologist at the University of Surrey, notes that many people – including Alexander Fleming – have painted with bacteria. But now, in collaboration with watercolourist Sarah Roberts, he says the bacteria themselves have been turned into painters.

bacteria paint two.JPG

“We prepared a standard agar plate, about 20cm by 20cm,” he explains. “Sarah chose some pigments – some of which she thought might be toxic, some of which she thought the bacteria might like and painted circles on the agar. Then we inoculated the agar with a red pigmented bacteria and incubated it overnight.”

The result was the image you see above. As the Serratia marcescens bacteria (the red colour) grew, they moved over the surface and “picked up the paint [the other colours] and moved it around according to their own ‘desires or whims’”, says Park.

The result makes visible some of the results of the bacteria’s movement, swarming, communication and even coordinated behaviour.

Park says he hopes this – and other outreach work – will help the public understanding of bacteria.

“I sit in a laboratory and work with what I think are some of the most wonderful things out there, but the public all they ever see of bacteria are the horror stories when people are selling bleach. They very rarely look at the good side,” he told Nature.

Image: Park / Roberts / S. marcescens


  1. Report this comment

    Jean SmilingCoyote said:

    It’s beautiful! I can’t help thinking these bacteria could earn some money by designing printed fabrics suitable for use in clothing, quilts, etc.

Comments are closed.