Poop is sometimes considered a little taboo, but it can tell you a lot about your health and potentially even save your life. And, if these images are anything to go by, it can even look beautiful, too.
These images were created by Dr Nicola Fawcett from the University of Oxford as a submission for the American Society of Microbiology's Agar Art competition — and they're made from, yes, poop. Fawcett works on the University's 'Antibiotic Resistance in the Microbiome OxfoRD (ARMORD) Study', where she "learns about the gut bacteria of Oxfordshire adults by studying poo samples," to "see how factors like antibiotics, diet, travel and contact with hospitals affect the gut bacteria."
The piece is made from a mixture of three common gut bacteria — purple E.coli, turquoise Citrobacter, and a tiny, tiny amount of dark blue Klebsiella (over 500 times less than the other bacteria). The bacteria were stamped onto the agar, and then left to grow overnight. Each small round 'dot' represents a bacterial colony (which may in itself contain a few million individual bacteria, growing together)... Mostly the bacterial colonies are so close, they merge together. You can see that generally the more numerous purple and turquoise bacteria can out-compete the dark blue Klebsiella, so that the Klebsiella colonies can only grow as big as pinpricks. This is similar to what happens in the gut, where 'beneficial' bacteria can out-compete more harmful ones and keep them under control.
The design, which features a motif based on ivy, is supposed to evoke the idea of the bacterial garden that flourishes inside your gut. Fortunately, it also looks beautiful.
Fawcett has written a long and interesting post about how the art was made, the science behind it and her influences. If you're impressed by just how beautiful and interesting poop can prove, it's well worth a read.
Images by Chris Wood from Oxford Medical Illustration and Nicola Fawcett under Creative Commons licence