The American Museum of Natural History, PBS’ Brain Craft and Gross Science, and Science Friday have teamed up to spread the love and importance of microbes during #MicrobeWeek!


You still have a few more days to celebrate #MicrobeWeek – a celebration of the small and certainly my favorite week! #MicrobeWeek was created by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in celebration of their current microbially focused exhibition The Secret World Inside You, (see my review). AMNH teamed up with BrainCraft, Gross Science, and Science Friday to create four YouTube videos and other content about their favorite microbial research. Erin Chapman, Senior New Media Specialist at AMNH, says, “We figured with all the “awareness” hashtag days out there, microbes certainly deserve their own week. It’s really only recently that the study of the microbial world has become (as curators Susan Perkins and Rob DeSalle describe in their book Welcome To the Microbiome) “a full-fledged scientific field,” but the amount of research that’s being done now is just phenomenal. To me, it feels like microbiome research is a big part of the contemporary scientific zeitgeist, but hasn’t yet made as huge an impression on the general public. We want to get folks as excited and engaged about microbes, as they are about space or dinosaurs.”


Microbes of New York

Hands-down the favorite video in our household was AMNH’s Microbes of New York, a really hilarious “interview” of five resident bacteria in NYC developed by Erin Chapman. My daughter, Jac, summarized the video best. “The silly voices of the bacteria telling you new information is great.” I loved that the two curators, Dr. Susan Perkins and Dr. Rob DeSalle, voiced two of the bacteria. Jac’ favorite bacterium was the Lysinobacillus sphaericus that makes toxin to kill mosquitoes. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, the New Age Bfidobacterium who talks about his role teaching kid’s immune systems – “If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you” – is great. Then there’s Enterobacter cloacae. A self-described confrontational NYC girl who multiplies when fed high fat foods like hot dogs and pizza and “…ticks off the immune system”. Another favorite was Bacillus cereus, a fast talking social media maven who in between subtweeting Salmonella, reminds us to keep “Hot foods hot and cold foods cold – #Duh”.

Erin chose those particular microbes because they were all found on PathoMap—a project from Weill Cornell Medical College researcher Chris Mason and colleagues that collected genetic samples from all over public spaces in New York to learn which microbes call the city home. Erin looked for microbes that had interesting “stories”—some provide surprising benefits, others cause food poisoning—and that she could imagine as the kind of characters you meet in NYC. And of course, the video’s also indebted to the Humans of New York blog.

(Starting) A Rumor of A Sequel?

The Secret World Inside You
Curator Dr. Susan Perkins in the Interactive Microbiome Lab

Curator, Dr. Susan Perkins answered a few additional questions about the Microbes of New York project.

Anne: What bacteria would you feature if a Microbes of New York sequel were produced? (Hint Hint #MicrobeWeek 2017!)

Susan:  “Chatting with Helicobacter pylori would be fun – he’s sort of been “framed” a bit for being such a bad guy, but may turn out to be helpful at times.  He’d be a character. It would be interesting to hear from Clostridium difficile, but you might want to be careful – he’s a very wily one.  I’d be curious to see if there was any Deinococcus radiodurans lurking around in the subway tunnels – they’re great at breaking down waste….I picture them looking a bit like The Thing from Marvel comics.”


Anne: Do any of the Microbes of New York ride the subway?

Susan: All the time! Many of the microbes from our bodies hitch rides all over town. Few of them will make you sick, but with all those millions of riders every day, that’s a lot of microbes.


Anne: What are their favorite places in NYC?

Susan: Aside from the subway, the microbes love our parks – we have zillions of microbes who call the soils and ponds of Central Park and the other green spaces. Human microbes REALLY love this city, too with all of our larger residents!


Anne: What one message do all of these bacteria have to send to human citizens of NYC and/or the world?

Susan: “You can’t see us, but don’t let that stop you from saying something about us!”

In addition to the fabulous YouTube videos, the group is sharing different microbe-related content including a microbe coloring book, instructions for making your own Winogradsky Column, and Curator Rob DeSalle doing a Periscope with Science Friday. Erin and AMNH hope that other people will take up the #MicrobeWeek hashtag and share their own research, images, and/or favorite microbial facts on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other social platforms. For a review of the other 3 videos and to see the video that my daughter and I made to celebrate while schools were closed due to over 30 inches of snow here in Baltimore, check out this post.

So take a few minutes and raise a glass, perhaps with a microbially fermented beverage, to our microbial associates that live in and around us during #MicrobeWeek. Looking forward to celebrating again next year – Cheers!

Microbes of New York

Bacteria: Microbes of New York

Protists: Microbes of New York

What Do You Think?