Microorganisms reside everywhere, yet they are too small to be seen with the human eye. New York City (NYC) is a melting pot of cultures - both human and microbial - and every citizen has a personalized microbiome. Collectively, we shape NYC’s microbiome by our lifestyle choices, and this unseen microbial world significantly impacts us. The Urban Biome Map is a collaborative project between citizen scientists and artists, aiming to make the invisible visible and to raise awareness for the urban microbiome to the general public in a fun hands-on activity.
We invited the public to learn about microbes by creating a city map using harmless Escherichia coli K12 bacteria engineered with colorful fluorescent proteins like GFP, RFP or YFP as paint. More than fifty participants applied bacterial suspension cultures onto square petri plates containing standard LB selection media. The plates were prepared with stencils of NYC’s street grid, allowing participants to paint the bacteria into the patterns. After a short incubation time, participants returned to print the grown colonies on paper. The bacterial prints were reassembled into the map of NYC, blending the individual prints into a collective artwork and creating an everlasting microbial map of NYC.