Cheese is known for its stinky odor. But, cheeses at one
exhibit at the Science Gallery Dublin in Trinity College Dublin come from an especially
smelly source -- human toe, armpit, belly button and mouth bacteria.
Selfmade, which is part of the Grow Your Own...Life After Nature
exhibition, features different "microbial sketches" of cheeses
created with bacteria samples from various people. Each cheese supposedly
smells similar to the donor's body odor.
The team took different microbial strains from the subjects. Next, they identified microbes that made up that person's
specific scent using a method known as headspace gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis,
which can find volatile organic compounds in a sample.
Then, the cheese making process began. Milk was added to the
microbe sample, and spoiled with a bacteria called Lactobacillus. When the
sample curdled, the team separated the clumps and aged them with yeast to make
different varieties of cheese.
"I'm really excited about things that sometimes are a
little bit gross, a little bit disgusting," microbiologist Christina Agapakis,
who worked on the project, admitted at a Pop Tech presentation about the human cheese project.
Agapakis partnered with artist Sissell Tolaas for the
project. They explained in a statement that they were interested in creating
cheese from the human bacteria to showcase the different aspects of smell and microbial communities.
"Many of the stinkiest cheeses are hosts to species of
bacteria closely related to the bacteria responsible for the characteristic smells
of human armpits or feet," they said. "Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial
cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies? How do
humans cultivate and value bacterial cultures on cheeses and fermented foods?
How will synthetic biology change with a better understanding of how species of
bacteria work together in nature as opposed to the pure cultures of the lab?"
Agapakis admitted to NPR that people were a little weirded
out by the idea.
"People were really nervous and uncomfortable, and kind
of making these grossed out faces," she said. "Then they smell the
cheese, and they'll realize that it just smells like a normal cheese."
But, the creators say that
you can't snack on this kind of cheese.
"This isn't cheese for
eating," Agapakis said at Pop Tech. "This is cheese for