What do they look like?

Biological agents are too small to see with the eye but may be found in infected tissue, body fluids, blood, faeces and urine. In the environment, biological agents can also be found in stagnant water and dirt.

This bacteria, once growing in this petri dish experiment, will not cause infection now because the object is dry, sterile and sealed.

Petri dish containing culture medium showing the effect of Penicillin on bacteria colonies, made 1944
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

This mortuary trolley was likely exposed to biological agents causing diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis. This object has been in a museum collection for many decades and it is extremely unlikely any original biological agents remain today.

Covered mortuary trolley, c.1900
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

An example of a contemporary acquisition that does contain harmful biological agents is this piece of ‘fatberg’ extracted from London’s sewer system in 2017.

Fatberg on display in 2018
© Museum of London