Microbial Tattoo Workshop

Hosted by Nathalie Dubois Calero at INCUBATOR Art Lab
Written by Abigail Morris

On March 18th, 2023, INCUBATOR Art Lab hosted a Microbial Tattoos workshop led by team member, Dr. Nathalie Dubois Calero. Nathalie is a Bioartist and scientist, with a Ph.D. in plant science. She enjoys working with colonies of microorganisms and is fascinated by our intimate communication with the non-human (or too much human?) part of ourselves.


In this workshop, participants learned about the microbiome and how there are many different types of microorganisms (i.e., bacteria, fungi, mold, and yeast) living in and on our bodies. To further explore our unique and diverse microbial identities, participants created their very own microbial tattoos.

To begin, each participant was provided with 3 petri dishes that had been pre-plated with agar. Agar is a jelly-like substance that comes from seaweed and provides nutrients for the growth of microorganisms. In the first petri dish, participants placed a piece of cloth that had been soaked in a growth medium and exposed to microbes on their skin. In the second petri dish, participants directly touched a part of their body (ex. ear, elbow, chest) onto the agar plate. The difference between the first and second petri dishes is the use of cloth to collect more microbes. In the petri dishes without any cloth, we expect to see less microbes. The third petri dish was used as a control, so it was only exposed to air. Some participants had fun with the control dish and danced around the studio to ensure that they had a good sample. Once all of the petri dishes were finished being exposed to people’s microbiomes and the air, we wrapped them in parafilm (like tape, but made of wax) to seal them shut.


The petri dishes were then transported to the Bioart Laboratory where they were left to cultivate and grow into microbes that we could see. A week later, with the help of team member Cri Kosti, photographs were taken of the petri dishes and the results were stunning. Don’t you agree?


Image Credit
Microbial tattoo workshop with Nathalie Dubois Calero at INCUBATOR Art lab. Photographer: Cri Kosti, 2023.