|Formerly Michael Pollan's Bellybutton|
Many of these microorganisms are ubiquitous on human skin. If you're not a biology nerd, but some of these genus and species names sound familiar, you might be remembering them from my deodorant post in September, where I talked about what bacteria are responsible for your stinkiness. (You can find it by clicking here.)
Lactococcus has been isolated on human skin in small quantities and there is evidence that it may serve an antimicrobial (well, anti-other-microbial) function. You're pretty much coated in Lactobacillus-- you can find it hanging out not only in small quantities on your skin, but in your gastrointestinal tract, in your tooth decay, and inside your vagina. (You can also thank Lactobacillus for yogurt and pickles.) Streptococcus is similarly abundant on your body. In addition to your skin, it can be found in your mouth, intestines, and respiratory system. Brevibacterium linens is one of the bacteria responsible for foot odor.
As cheese microbiologist Benjamin Wolfe says, "There's been really great recent work on the microbiome of people's feet, looking at both the bacteria and the fungi... and if you look at that data and you put our cheese data right next to it, they look pretty much the same."
In total, Agapakis and Tolaas made 11 cheeses, taking swabs from everything from mouths to belly buttons to feet. This formed the bacterial basis for their cheeses. Agapakis told NPR, "The idea was to recognize, how do we get grossed out? Then to think about it and move beyond that initial idea of disgust. Why are we more uncomfortable with bacteria on the body than we are with bacteria in cheese?"
Interviews suggest that no one has actually tasted the cheese, which is a disappointment. But, like... you first.
The project is currently on display at the Science Gallery in Dublin.
Aching for more information? Check out Christina Agapakis's website here and here...
...this short video:
...or this Science Gallery promotional video: