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Beauty in the Bacteria  

Move over Picasso. Albright College biology students tapped into their artistic sides, using a rather unusual type of paint, to create their masterpieces. 

By Hilary Bentman

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Jennifer Zaplitny '14 shows off her winning design, a piping hot cup of coffee, created with bacteria strains.

 

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Sixteen culture plates rested upon a table in the Science Center laboratory, each containing bacteria growth — not an unusual sight given the surroundings. But a closer inspection revealed something strange. The bacteria growth resembled an intricate palm tree, a steaming cup of coffee, and everyone’s favorite fry cook, Spongebob Squarepants. It seems Albright’s biology students have found beauty in their bacteria.

With the semester nearly over, assistant professor of biology Adam Hersperger, Ph.D., challenged the students in his bacteriology class to tap into their artistic sides by using strains of bacteria as paint to produce images. Hersperger dubbed the extra credit assignment, which all 16 of his students opted to do, as “painting with microbes.”

Albright has samples of six strains of bacteria that produce color when they grow. The strains actually provide a pleasant palette of orange, pink, red, violet, white and yellow. With a cotton swab, the students spread the bacteria on a plate in a design of their choosing and let it grow, in some cases for a couple of days.

“This is something fun to do, but you have to know how the bacteria will grow and interact,” said Hersperger, noting that students had to consider how the bacteria respond to different temperatures and how one strain will impact another, which could wreak havoc on color scheme.

“The students spent a lot of time practicing. Some of the designs are very intricate,” said Hersperger.

The 16 designs were judged on execution and creativity by biology faculty members Stephen Mech, Ph.D., David Osgood, Ph.D., and Gerald Kreider, Ph.D., with an assist by associate art professor Richard Hamwi, Ph.D.

The winner – who will receive even more extra credit points – was Jennifer Zaplitny ’14, whose piping hot cup of coffee looked good enough to drink. Well, almost. It is bacteria, after all.

 

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