Mutant Bacteria is Being Mistaken for Van Gogh Art


| LAST UPDATE 01/19/2022

By Sharon Renee
mutant bacteria van gogh
Staff via Getty Images

"Bacteria" and "Art" typically don't go hand-in-hand on paper. But according to a new finding, they couldn't be more similar. Recently, swarms of mutant bacteria have come to recreate one of Van Gogh's most iconic paintings. From the chance discovery to the conclusion scientists came to, here's what to know...

It all started when microbiologists set off to further study the social cooperation of predatory bacteria, Myxococcus xanthus. For those unaware, such organisms often work together in order to successfully hunt their prey. More specifically, they move and eat in cooperative swarms - something that soon left researchers doing a double-take. As for how, specifically, a group of harmful bacteria came to channel Van Gogh's 'Starry Night?'

mutant bacteria van gogh
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As researchers continued to study the organisms in question, they eventually decided to take matters into their own hands to see just how codependent these bacterium really were. With proteins TraA and TraB as the subject study, the scientists mutated strains of M. xanthus to see how they would react. Sure enough, the initial hypothesis was proven to be correct: "When you overexpress that protein, you can see these circular aggregates emerge after four hours, and by 12 hours they take up the whole (petri dish)," revealed study co-author Oleg Igoshin, a professor of bioengineering at Rice University. Next, Igoshin and his team artificially colored the resulting swarms to properly distinguish each strain. Only what came next was startling...

Much to his surprise, the clusters of colored organisms (above) came to mirror Van Gogh's infamous painting. From the blue-and-yellow hues to the scattered swirls throughout, the modified organisms looked exactly like 19th-century art. And while mutant bacteria have always stood out from the rest, the latest finding has even left scientists amazed. "Our work highlights how a social bacterium, known for rich sources of therapeutic natural products and as crop biocontrol agents, serves as a powerful model for studying emergent behaviors that also exhibit artistic beauty," co-author of the mSystems study, microbiologist Daniel Wall from the University of Wyoming, explained.

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