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antimicrobial resistance

Snapshots of Life: Portrait of a Bacterial Biofilm

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Colony of Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Credit: Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter, Harvard Medical School, Boston

In nature, there is strength in numbers. Sometimes, those numbers also have their own unique beauty. That’s the story behind this image showing an intricate colony of millions of the single-celled bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common culprit in the more than 700,000 hospital-acquired infections estimated to occur annually in the United States. [1]. The bacteria have self-organized into a sticky, mat-like colony called a biofilm, which allows them to cooperate with each other, adapt to changes in their environment, and ensure their survival.

In this image, the Pseudomonas biofilm has grown in a laboratory dish to about the size of a dime. Together, the millions of independent bacterial cells have created a tough extracellular matrix of secreted proteins, polysaccharide sugars, and even DNA that holds the biofilm together, stained in red. The darkened areas at the center come from the bacteria’s natural pigments.


Antimicrobial Resistance: Seeing the Problem at Hand

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A hand with green and brown swirls with some orange specks throughout

Credit: Lydia-Marie Joubert, Stanford University Medical Center

You’ll be relieved to know that this is not a real hand, swarming with exotic species of microbes. But this eerie image does send a somber message: antimicrobial resistant bacteria (green) are becoming more common and more resilient, while the numbers of vulnerable bacteria (red) are dwindling.

The artist is Lydia-Marie Joubert, an electron microscopy expert at Stanford University Medical Center. She created this image by overlaying a photograph of artist Francis Hewlett’s sculpture of a human hand, five feet tall and emerging from the grounds of a garden in Wales, with epifluorescence micrographs of Pseudomonas bacteria growing on the surface of a glass tube. Her imaginative image earned her the People’s Choice award from The International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, run annually by Science magazine and the National Science Foundation.