The Microbiology of New York

It's my 6 month anniversary back in New York City and now I can only see the place in microbial terms. The American Museum of History's "Microbes of New York" video helps summarize my 6 month reintroduction to the city.

Go to the profile of Michael Chao
Aug 01, 2016
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It's August 1 and now officially 6 months since I returned to New York City (grew up here but had not been back to live for 15 years). Despite having been a city dweller for the past decade, it was still a jolt to be dropped into the general chaos of NYC again. Below, I discuss how my work has made me see everything (for good and bad) in microbiological terms, a view neatly summed up by a hilarious video from the American Museum of Natural History.


February 1: Arriving at the New York office

  • The New York Springer Nature office has a not too shabby view, yes? Now, the commute to lower Manhattan, on the hand...


Ongoing experiment: Exploring the city of microbrews (AKA, the new millennial economy)

  • Microbrews are now popping up all over the city and on any given weekend you can quite happily (and tipsily) drink your way through many exotically flavoured beers (jalapeno and sweet potato, anyone?) in many different neighborhoods. The surprisingly fun part is talking to the brewers themselves about the microbiology behind the product and how excited they get when learning about the biology behind their flavors (e.g., had a fun talk with a brewer why passaging yeast strains will cause the the flavours to start going off).


Outreach: Science and the public


  • What's been really nice to see is that despite all the beatings we as scientists take in the political arena ('why are you using our money to study that?') and in the classrooms ('Evolution? What evolution?'), there is still a huge amount of interest from the public about science in general. Admittedly, you sometimes have to reframe the question, but I'll never stop being amazed at how interested someone (children, especially) can be about research if given half the chance to really understand it by talking with scientists.
  • I've had the opportunity to volunteer with a couple of organizations, the American Museum of Nature History (AMNH) in the Sackler educational laboratory (top) and with the BioBus (bottom). On any given weekend, I get to chat science (and of course, I try to slip in some microbiology when I can) with the public, while trying (more successful than not) to clear up misconceptions ('Yes, the NYC tap water is safe to drink'; 'No, yogurt and kombucha are not cure-alls'; 'Please vaccinate, please!'). If nothing else, you start to understand that we as a field need to engage more with the public to really make the case that STEM fields need to be a part of everyone's basic primary and secondary education.


So, after 6 months, how do I now see New York? Check out the video from the AMNH for the answer:

Go to the profile of Michael Chao

Michael Chao

Associate Editor, Nature Microbiology

I first developed an interest in bacterial pathogenesis while at Cornell University. I then earned my PhD in Biomedical and Biological Sciences from Harvard University in Eric Rubin’s laboratory, studying cell wall remodelling in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. From 2012-2015, I continued my training as a postdoctoral fellow in Matthew Waldor’s lab at Harvard Medical School, investigating the role of DNA methylation on regulating fundamental cellular processes in Vibrio cholerae.

1 Comments

Go to the profile of Andrew Jermy
Andrew Jermy over 1 year ago

Nice to read about the stuff I don't get to hear about each morning these last 6 months Mike, I'll have to arrange a visit so that we can go and sample some of those craft brewers wares.

[Also very glad to read this post and find that you hadn't been sampling the subway microbiome]