Snow microbes used in art


TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) –  You probably know that you can find microbes all over your home, but you “may not know” that they’re found in the snowflakes too.

You probably won’t see them in small numbers, but when they grow, they can produce some vivid colors according to Rose Hulman Associate Biologist Peter Coppinger.

“When they grow into a colony, you quickly realize that a lot of them produce really pretty pigments,” said Coppinger. “A lot of microbiologists like to study those pigments and a fun way to do that is to draw with them.”

The microbes themselves are in no short supply and millions of them can occupy very small spaces.

“If I were just to touch one of these colonies with this toothpick, there’s probably several hundred million bacteria on this toothpick,” said Coppinger. “You can’t really see the colors, but you can see the colors when they produce colonies on a petri dish.”

While most microbes are non-pathogenic, some can be dangerous and you should not attempt to grow them at home. Biologists say safe “microbe paint” could be available soon.

“Some of these pigments are being investigated for possible therapeutic applications,” explained Coppinger. “Some artists have looked into pigments produced by these bacteria as novel pigments to use in painting.”

While the snowflakes are mostly harmless if eaten, it might make you think twice before “catching” snowflakes.