Petri-plates with bacteria modified with fluorescent protein under UV light, show parts of NYC grid map.
(Photo credit Marta Molina Gomez and Ali Schachtschneider).
Genspace citizen science biotech lab and scientist Christine Marizzi from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s DNA Learning Center worked together to create a map of NYCs collective microbiome, as part of the New Museum’s IDEAS CITY Festival 2015.
Painting with bacteria on site at IDEAS CITY. (Photo credit Bella Cohen)
The theme of IDEAS CITY Festival 2015 was The Invisible City, an homage to Italo Calvino’s literary masterpiece. This theme is rooted in civic action, with each of the Festival’s platforms serving as an invitation to explore questions of transparency and surveillance, citizenship and representation, expression and suppression, participation and dissent, and the enduring quest for visibility in the city.
During three days of conferences, debates, workshops, performances, and architectural and artistic interventions, IDEAS CITY explored many of these questions.
Genspace approached this year’s theme of The Invisible City by making the invisible visible through offering the public access to NYCs collective microbiome! We set up a tent at IDEAS CITY Festival where people painted with harmless genetically engineered bacteria on petri plates prepared with stencils of a grid of NYC.
In addition the PathoMap “Swab Squad” team joined our tent, explained their project to the public and shared the “SwabKit”, which allows anyone to explore NYC microbiome and help crowd source microbial samples from around the city.
PathoMAP, SwabKIT. You too could become an explorer and help collect microbial samples of your CITY! PathoMap is a project led by Dr. Christopher Mason at Weill Cornell Medical College that began in 2013, to explore the microbiome and metagenome of New York City, and sequenced DNA from surfaces across the entire NYC subway system, the Gowanus Canal, and public parks.
In the second part of the event, people joined Genspace and Christine to participate in a hands-on Bacteria Printing Workshop. The painted petri dishes holding the now grown- and visible!- bacteria were printed onto paper and then reassembled into the map of NYC, blending the microbial prints into a collective artwork, making the microbial community of NYC visible. The artistic hands-on experience was enriched with a lively discussion and background teachings about the perception of Genetic Engineering and microbes in our society. Participants also learned how the scientific community is mapping microbial ecosystems in urban environments and how citizen scientists can get involved.
So what is the microbiome? The microbiome is the ecological community of all microorganisms that share our body space. The human body contains over ten times more microbial cells than human cells, although the entire microbiome weighs only about three pounds. The total number of genes associated with the human microbiome exceeds the total number of human genes by a factor of 100-to-one. We are outnumbered indeed!
Microbes reside everywhere – on land, in water, and in the air – yet they are too small to be seen with the human eye. New York City is a melting pot of cultures, both human and microbial, and every citizen has a personalized microbiome. Collectively we shape New York City’s urban-biome by our lifestyle choices and this unseen microbial world significantly impacts us.
This project succeeded to engage the public to learn about NYC’s microbiome and to collectively create an assemblage of New York City – a microbial-map! The map will be featured on our website which will go live soon.
Stay tuned for more about The Collective NYC Biome Map with upcoming workshops, talks and hands-on activities at Genspace and beyond!