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This Microbiologist Drew ‘Game of Thrones’ Sigils with Bacteria

When you're a scientist, all you need is bacteria and some agar jelly to create a literally cultural tribute to your favorite show.

by Matthew Gault
May 15 2019, 4:53pm

Image: Reddit/Equillibria

Game of Thrones fans express their love of the show’s medieval battles and intrigue by painting portraits of the characters, cooking up meals described in the novels, and, now, by growing gorgeous renditions of Westerosi house sigils in bacteriological cultures.

Bria O’Brien, a laboratory manager at Tentamus North America in Virginia, posted her literally cultural tribute to Reddit’s r/microbiology subreddit on Tuesday. O’Brien’s lab specializes in food and consumer goods testing, she said over a Reddit message.

“We make our own media (the stuff that makes bacteria happy) in house and therefore quality check our media to make sure it grows what it’s supposed to and doesn’t grow what it shouldn’t,” she said.

The process of quality checking media typically involves putting agar—a jelly-like material commonly used to culture bacteria—in a petri dish then streaking the solution with a zigzag line of bacteria. Sometimes, O’Brien said, she spices up the process with an artistic flourish.

“I’ll draw whatever suits my mood during that day,” she said. “I have various drawings like the Game of Thrones house sigils to holiday plates to the Stranger Things mind flayer.”

After a day or two, the bacteria grows and the art appears in the agar. “To draw them I use an inoculating needle, and a drop of sterile water in a petri dish mixed with a colony of the bacteria,” she said. “For specific drawings I’ll look at a picture to make sure I capture it accurately.”

Agar art is a popular hobby among microbiologists. The American Society for Microbiology holds an annual contest to find the best artwork grown with bacteria. The finalists in the contest have crafted beautiful, detailed, and complex work using bacteria and agar. O’Brien said she’s submitted her work to the contest before and is looking forward to entering again this year.

She’s also not done with Game of Thrones.

“Depending on the outcome of [ Game of Thrones], I may draw some agar plates specifically detailing the end,” she said. “My favorite house is house Stark. It has the majority of the morally good characters in the show that I’d like to see make it out alive.”

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