Bacterial Art: The History of Petri

Bacterial Art: The History of Petri

✺ Today’s Google Doodle marks the birthday of Julius Petri (1852–1921) whose name is associated with the ubiquitous Petri dish found in every microbiology laboratory, from high schools to research universities. In the late 1800’s, Petri was working for the “father of germ theory”, Robert Koch. At the time, bacteria were cultured in liquid broth. Koch realized the advantage of using solid medium: if diluted sufficiently, individual cells could be spread apart so they could divide in place and form distinct colonies. Koch could then isolate different organisms that gave rise to diphtheria, tuberculosis, cholera and other diseases.

✺ At first, Koch placed the bacteria on puddles of gelatin along the insides of the flask, which could be accessed by a narrow opening. Petri realized that spreading the gelatin on a flat plate with a lid was much more convenient. And history was made!

✺ The humble Petri dish has inspired some beautiful art. The plates below were cultured in the laboratory of Professor Eshel Ben-Jacob (Tel Aviv University). You can admire the fractal fronds of microbes ▶ http://goo.gl/n4aky

✺ Share your petri dish trivia and stories here for #ScienceEveryday !

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46 Responses to Bacterial Art: The History of Petri


  1. Ah, brings back memories!


    The sweet smell of putrefaction in the morning……….. ;D

  2. Rajini Rao says:


    Irving Drommond  Yeast plates smell of beer and bread, not too bad for hungry grads 😉

  3. Alice Haugen says:


    Good solid media are rare. Trying out potato starch and gelatin it became clear that many organisms make enzymes that degrade and liquify them, hence no longer solid! Koch’s wife was the child of Chinese missionaries and suggested a dessert gel from her experiences there. And thus agar agar entered the laboratory.

  4. Rajini Rao says:


    I didn’t know that bit of trivia, thanks Alice Haugen ! I’ve also wondered about the repetition in the name agar agar 🙂

  5. Rajini Rao says:


    According to my googling, the word agar agar comes from the Malay word for a red seaweed (agal agal? Aida Hazlan , Zee L ..is this correct?).

  6. Alice Haugen says:


    Then there were the odd looks I got at a faculty wine and cheese party when I said gratefully, “Just think – all of these delicious things are the gift of fungi.”

  7. Rajini Rao says:


    Hopefully they thought they misheard Gift of Magi instead! 🙂

  8. Rajini Rao says:


    Thanks, Aida Hazlan . I just watched this beautiful art with Pandang leaf extract marbled into liquid agar in a heart shaped mold: Marble AGAR-AGAR with Pandan Leaves


    If you watch..fast forward past the middle to the end 😉


  9. Google+ Help Any reason this has not appeared on my (so called) stream? I have her in a couple of circles, all of them with maximum visibility. But I’ve only seen this post when it was reshared. Since last “update” things work much worse.


  10. Rajini Rao From the name of some Malay game (rimau-rimau) I learnt reduplication is a way to create a plural.

  11. Rajini Rao says:


    Víktor Bautista i Roca my stream is messed up also. When I refresh, I keep getting the same posts showing up on the top – I’m sure I’ve missed posts too.

  12. Rajini Rao says:


    Ah, that is so interesting, thanks for the info on the duplication Víktor Bautista i Roca .


  13. Rajini Rao Aida Hazlan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rimau-rimau


    «Rimau-rimau is the plural of rimau which means “tiger” in the Malay language.  Therefore, rimau-rimau means “tigers”. The several hunters attempting to surround and immobilize the tigers are called orang-orang which is the plural of orang which means “man”.»


    You learn a lot of things out of playing 🙂

  14. Rajini Rao says:


    You do have a fun job, Víktor Bautista i Roca 🙂

  15. Rajini Rao says:


    Aida Hazlan , is it possible that the duplications are no longer used in modern Malay and are a remnant of the past? 

  16. Rajini Rao says:


    Thank you-thank you, for that clarification Aida Hazlan 🙂


  17. Aida Hazlan Isn’t scarecrow orang-orangan? At least, according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_grammar
    _«For example, orang-orang means “(all the) people”, but orang-orangan means “scarecrow”»_


    Also, maybe rimau is just a dialectal form of harimau. Malay film Hantu rimau was translated as Tiger ghost. Also, if you google for rimau you get images of tigers.


    By the way, Aida, do you plau dakon / conglak / sungka?


  18. Aida Hazlan The linked article is about both Malays, Indonesian and Malaysian.


  19. One never knows what will be discovered in conversation about petri dishes, LOL.  Great post and images!


  20. Hai Rajani wishing u a success full scientist


  21. I don’t no what is this

  22. Rajini Rao says:


    Peter Lindelauf that’s why I carefully used the sobriquet madam scientist in place of mad scientist 🙂

  23. Rajini Rao says:


    Uh oh. Now I have this urge to go into the lab and do some mad science. 

  24. Bill Collins says:


    If you’re viewing from a phone – like an iPhone 4S for example – there appears to be a bug that does not refresh. I’ve found success by opening a circle and going from there. Phone viewing still has not the richness of a computer.


    On the subject of the main post, I love the colors around the petri dishes and found myself wondering if they actually grew cultures to form the shape of the letters. It would be relatively easy. Then I thought “I want Umi Sushi” and it was only time for my second cup of coffee.

  25. Peying Fong says:


    T. Jentsch recounted the instance of a post-doc in the Lodish lab who used to eat agar from Petri dishes when he got hungry late at night…

  26. Rajini Rao says:


    Ugh, no! At least it’s vegetarian Peying Fong 🙂


  27. ahh good memories of microbiology.  We had to go outside and swab something/anything, then culture, isolate, and identify our chosen organism.  Good times.


  28. I have never thought about why we call them “petri dishes”.   Thanks!

  29. Rajini Rao says:


    Shannan Muskopf , neither did I!  😛


    Thanks to Google Doodle for celebrating Julius Petri. 

  30. IRENE Tait says:


    Nature is so beautiful even virouses take one of the top spots for beauty, thanks to science


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