Gut Flora

Microbes live on us, and with us. They don’t just make us ill – they can also protect us from infection, and keep us healthy.  Our gut is like a forest, or garden, where microbes flourish in a balanced, mini ecosystem.

This exhibition at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, featured gut bacteria, grown on colour-changing nutrient jelly plates, stamped in botanical designs. The plates also contain paper discs infused with antibiotics, which dissolve into the jelly. The images explore how bacteria found in the gut interact with antibiotics, and what this means for our health.

These images have been created using the same techniques we use in hospitals and laboratories to study how bacteria respond to antibiotics.  Gut bacteria have been stamped in decorative patterns onto nutrient jelly (‘agar’) and left to grow overnight, then photographed. They are a collaboration between University of Oxford Scientist Dr Nicola Fawcett, and photographer Chris Wood.

Dr Fawcett is a hospital Doctor, and studies how antibiotics affect the delicate balance of microbes in the gut. She created this exhibition to help communicate the messages of the ARMORD study.

All images on this post are by Chris Wood. If you re-use them, please attribute them to: Chris Wood and Nicola Fawcett, Modernising Medical Microbiology (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Nicola Fawcett was supported by a Clinical Research Training Fellowship funded by the Medical Research Council UK, and the exhibition was kindly supported by a Medical Research Council UK Public Engagement Seed Fund Award.

The work owes a huge amount to Anna Dumitriu, the research group’s Artist-in-Residence

This work originally started as part of the  American Society of Microbiology’s 2015 ‘Agar Art’ Competition- see more here, and see all the entries here.

If you are interested in obtaining prints of the images, or hearing about future art work, please email

Final acknowledgements