Thick, distinguished brushstrokes of yellow orbs in a swirling blue sky over a quiet village. This is what defines Vincent van Gogh’s iconic painting “The Starry Night.” The texture of the oil on canvas is a distinctive part of the image, but Melanie Sullivan, a microbiologist from Missouri, has created a reproduction that replaced the oil and canvas with bacteria and petri dishes.
Sullivan created her interpretation for the American Society for Microbiology’s first Agar Art contest. Agar refers to the jelly like substance that petri dishes are filled with for bacteria to grow and live. Different strains of bacteria reflect different colors.
According to the caption on Sullivan’s Facebook photo entry, the bacteria used were:
White: Acinetobacter baumanii, which can cause infection in people with weakened immune systems and is easily spread in hospitals because of its resistance to antibiotics.
Brown: Proteus mirabilis, which commonly causes urinary tract infections.
Blue-green: Enterococcus faecalis, which colonizes the gastrointestinal tract and is a common cause of lower urinary tract infections and is also easily spread in hospitals because of its resistance to antibiotics.
Dark blue: Klebsiella pneumonia, which is found in the flora of the mouth, skin and intestines and causes infections like pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections and meningitis.
Other scientists made sunsets, dragonflies, a map of New York City, and even a portrait of Louis Pasteur. Yeast and proteins were used in other pieces as well as bacteria. Alas, recreating the signature work of one of the world’s most renowned painters wasn’t enough to win first place in the competition, or even place at all.
See the winners here.