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Biology Students Create "Microbe Masterpieces"

Micro-biology has never been so colorful.

As a final laboratory project, Ben Wise, associate professor of biology, asked his general microbiology (BIO 315) students to design and “paint” works of visual art. The medium? A “palette” of pigmented bacteria in red, purple, yellow, and blue.

In order to render their designs in full color, the artists first used aseptic isolation techniques to produce pure cultures of each organism, then applied these invisible “living paints” to the agar surface of large petri plates using cotton swabs, transfer loops and needles, depending on the “brush strokes” required to accurately render their designs.

After several days of incubation, the bacteria exhibited their colors, in the form of the original designs.. According to Ben, “these paintings are still alive, changing, and occasionally hosting intruding organisms that add a certain abstract expressionist touch to the original design.”

Among designs were a cat, a butterfly, a baseball, and Keene State’s clock tower logo.

“I’ve never heard of anyone doing this before,” says Ben, who plans to present a poster of the project at microbiology conferences.

The participating students were Marie Bartram, Lori Benecchi, Mady Cartier, Jim Gardner, Heather Guite, Gail Gully, Tessa Karabin, Danielle Phaneuf, Eric Rosario, Emily Slater, Mariah Smith, Megan Snyder, Shelby Stendahl, Jamie Taylor, Stephanie Underwood, and Chris von Krebs-Cintorino.

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