Joel Ong and I have been working at the Coalesce Center for Biological Art with the Genome, Environment and Microbiome Community of Excellence at the University at Buffalo, New York, on a project called Umwelt Microbiana.
If we see the world from the microbial perspective, we might better understand and appreciate the complex living interdependencies between the air, earth, water, plants, and animals. Through the collection and analysis of samples, the writing of microbial narratives or myths, and the construction of a small world that can be experienced by only a few people at a time, we intend to crack open a door to the microbial umwelt. To begin, we propose workshops to involve interested citizens in collecting microbial samples from the air using balloons and kites, from local water sources (Great Lakes and Niagra River) using flasks and buckets, and from the soil using shovels and probes. With a fraction of these samples we will conduct scientific tests, including metagenomic profiles, to consider the ecological networks, communication, and horizontal gene transfer between all of these realms. We will integrate the other fraction of these samples into interactive installations, where fans, heat lamps, air currents, and water currents converge around built topographies.
We have begun with samples of the Niagra watershed and in April will be launching a weather balloon in search of the microbes involved in the formation of clouds and precipitation.