Beautiful Bacteria

Jill Harness
Smithsonian Magazine
Smithsonian Magazine / Smithsonian Magazine

Even if you're one of those people who appreciate that bacteria, while sometimes deadly, still help us and the planet survive, you probably don't think of the microrganisms as being beautiful. But biological physicist Eshel Ben-Jacob might just change your mind: His amazing pictures of Paenibacillus dendritiformis and Paenibacillus vortex bacteria show the fascinating patterns made by the colonies of these bacteria.

While these bacteria strains are both naturally colorless, Ben-Jacob dyes them with a blue stain and then changes the spectrum of colors in Photoshop as he sees fit.

Besides just being beautiful, the physicist's work helps scientists better understand bacteria in general by showing how the organisms cooperate to meet challenges—for example, moving in a particular way when one part of the colony discovers food.