Art that smells like a lab

You can probably guess who this is.
But can you guess what he’s made of…?

That’s Darwin sketched in living E. coli bacteria, of course.

And who but T. Ryan Gregory would have done such a thing? (Actually his graduate student Joao Lima did it.) This is the same T. Ryan Gregory who agreed to play Spore for weeks with me and a few other scientists for this scathing review of the game in Science.

Ryan studies genomes, how they evolve and generate biodiversity. But he does other cool stuff, too. He speaks his mind with a great science blog called Genomicron. He has an online shop where he sells hip geek threads. And now he’s outdone himself by launching an online art gallery devoted to paintings made out of microbes:

Created by Eshel Ben-Jacob

Created by Eshel Ben-Jacob

The original granddaddy of microbial art turns out to be none other than Alexander “Magic Bullet” Fleming, credited with discovering penicillin and hence saving humanity from immense microbe-induced suffering (at least until multiple drug-resistant bugs take over).

Check this out.
Made of microbes? You got it!

“Even in Fleming’s time this technique failed to receive much attention or approval. Apparently he prepared a small exhibit of bacterial art for a royal visit to St Mary’s by Queen Mary. The Queen was ‘not amused and hurried past it’ even though it included a patriotic rendition of the Union Jack in bacteria.” (From a 2002 biography of Fleming)

Oh how times have changed. Who wouldn’t want a microbial portrait on their wall?

Keep an eye out for next week’s issue of Science. It will be featuring one of the microbial objets d’art from Ryan’s gallery.