Bacteria explore space too… Every bacterial infection and food poisoning episode results from bacterial cells exploring our inner spaces. This agar art sculpture depicts the journey into the great unknown of our intestinal tubes for Salmonella, Shigella and E. coli O157, three globally important food poisoning pathogens. The bacteria were grown on the agar sculpture to make them different shades of red, white and purple, and some of these were spread into the swirls of rocket smoke. These bacteria have lots of tools packed inside their cells to help them survive all sorts of harsh conditions, and they can adapt to or shape the many environments they will find inside our gut. Studying how bacteria survive and adapt inside our inner spaces can help us prevent disease and understand more about how our own cells work.

Bacteria used: A mixture of food poisoning bacteria (E. coli O157, Shigella flexneri and Salmonella Typhimurium) were mixed together on two kinds of red/purple agar to achieve varying shades of red, white and purple.

Agars used: The rocket and the outer ring – the gut wall – were made of trypticase soy broth agar with congo red dye added. This is not selective, but the red dye binds to Shigella outer membranes and a variety of colonisation factors produced by Shigella, E. coli and Salmonella. The inner circle – the gut lumen – is made of MacConkey agar. This contains bile salts and crystal violet to inhibit the growth of Gram positive bacteria, like Staphylococci, and differentiates lactose fermenting (purple) from non-lactose fermenting organisms (white).

Disclaimer: I entered this into the American Society for Microbiology‘s Agar Art 2017 contest but didn’t even get shortlisted! Hey ho, it’s still cool and you can check out those that did here.