1000 Handshakes: Mapping the microbes between us

The microbes that live on and in our bodies weigh over 1 kg, and they outnumber us on a cellular level by 10:1. This microbial community or ‘microbiome‘ is different for different body parts; hand, gut, ears, and so on. There’s increasing scientific interest in the impact of the microbiome on everything from autoimmune diseases and body weight, to our cognitive and emotional states. But there’s still relatively little known about this hidden universe of cohabitors…

On Wednesday May 28th at the Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, artist and scientist Professor Francois-Joseph Lapointe will perform a new work, 1000 Handshakes. He will shake hands with people passing through the building, attending lectures, and eating their lunch, gradually changing the invisible microbial community in the palm of his hand. Periodically, assistants will take a sample from his skin, and the DNA of the microbiome will be analysed to reveal how our contact with others shapes the microbes between us.

Microbiome Selfie by François-Joseph Lapointe

The changing DNA profile will then be visualised as a series of ‘microbiome selfies’ (see the image to the left for an example), to be displayed at Panum and then at Medical Museion for a repeat of the performance on Culture Night on the 10th October 2014.

So come to Panum on May 28th between 10am-2pm, shake hands with the artist, and you (and your bacteria) will become part of this unique artwork



WE NEED YOU! We are looking for students, from the arts or sciences, to assist with the performance. This will involve taking part in a workshop 1-5pm May 20th at Medical Museion, and then participating in the performance on May 28th. Refreshments will be provided! Please email if you would like to take part, places are limited. 

Additional seminars (in English)

Thursday 15th May – 10am: François-Joseph Lapointe will give a public seminar on the relationship between art and science from his unique perspective at the Danish Art academy, in the Auditoriet ved Mediekunst, Kongens Nytorv 1, Copenhagen

Thursday 22nd May, 12.30-13.30: Internal MUSE workshop at Medical Museion. See here.

Information on the artist

Canadian researcher/artist Francois-Joseph Lapointe will be in residence at Medical Museion and the CBMR Section for Science Communication for three weeks during May and one week during October. Francois-Joseph is head of the laboratory of Molecular Ecology and Evolution at Université de Montréal and full professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. He has more than 100 scientific publications in the areas of  metagenomics, bioinformatics and population genetics. Alongside his scientific work, he also completed a PhD in dance in 2012 with a thesis entitled ‘Choreogenetics, or the art of making DNA dance’ (see examples of his work here). His recent bioart work involves sequencing his wife and his microbiome in order to generate changing metagenomic self-portraits.

Professor LaPointe’s visit is supported by his SSHRC grant, by a DIVA Award from the Danish Arts Foundation and the Danish Arts Council, and by the Section for Science Communication and Section for Metabolic Genetics of the NNF Center for Basic Metabolic Research, Medical Museion.