Project Template – Bacterial Prints

Kate Boyer, Interdisciplinary Sculpture Major, Sustainability and Social Practices Minor, 2024

Project Overview

I make a lot of other work about shells and shell-replicas, so I decided to try to make some out of agar as well!


I chose my favorite molds out of my silicone shell mold collection and speedclaved them, making little tinfoil lids for sterility. I made agar media, doubling the agar to increase viscosity, and filled them using a 10mcl pipette. There was a lot of overflow, but to my surprise when I came back the following day there had been significant shrinkage, pulling all the agar into the mold. I’m glad I didn’t scrape off the excess before putting it in the refrigerator. I used a scalpel to clean up the edges and got to painting.

I brushed all of the shells with x-gal, and then used a teeny tiny speedclaved brush to paint E. coli and and Kanamycin. It was significantly harder to paint the agar than other surfaces I’ve used in the past because the bacteria was clear, making it hard to see where I had been. I also chose to use exclusively Kanamycin on two of the small shells, hoping they would turn white.

Additionally, I speedclaved a real shell and used a nail art dotting tool to apply red Ampicillin to the red spots that were already on the shell.

After two days I was happy with the progress, excited that the bacteria was showing up. The Ampicillin showed up just barely under the black light. This was good news because it was unsure if it would work at all, however I was a bit disappointed that they grew around the dots and not on them(I wonder if this is because of make up of the pigment). I was ecstatic about the strong colors from the Kanamycin after a week of growth. However it is unclear if the two small white shells actually grew anything.

On critique day I waited until a break to document my shells, by then they had shrunk by about 40% because of their exposure to the air. This was a disappointing but informative discovery.

I also experimented with bacterial drawing in a petri dish. I decided to print out my pictures of my two kitties and paint them on. I tried to use the kanamycin in the darker spots on Spicy’s fur, however it only appeared in the center of his face.

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