Designer Cheese Made Using Bacteria From The Human Body

An artist and a synthetic biologist took samples from the armpits, toes, bellybuttons, and noses, of 71 people. Then they made cultured dairy products.

The labels aren’t lying. Pictured above are Toe Cheese and Armpit Cheese. By combining bacterial cultures swabbed from the human body with age old culinary techniques, Bacterially — an ongoing project by Sissel Tolaas, a professional artist and scent researcher, and Christina Agapakis, a postdoctoral research fellow in synthetic biology at UCLA — looks to understand the deeper connection between our bodies and our food.

This project began with the realization that the ecosystem of the human skin was often remarkably similar to the characteristic microbes in cheese…to explore the connection between our skin and our food, we produce cheeses by intentionally sampling these regions of the body and culturing skin bacteria in milk…creating unique odors and cheese characteristics.

Tolaas, discussing the bacterially project at the World Science Fair in New York in June, explained that “smell is one of those senses where context can play a huge role.” While the stinkiest Limburger cheese at the market is often considered a delicacy, and a smelly foot is often considered disagreeable, both smells are caused by a similar species of bacteria, Brevibacterium linens. 

Tolaas and Agapakis were originally brought together by Synthetic Aesthetics, a program that connects artists and scientists for cross-disciplinary innovation, exploration, and (sometimes very) out of the box creation. Going forward they hope to eventually create collections of designer microbes in order to pick and choose the characteristics of custom-tailored cheeses.

Check out the video of the panel in which Sissel Tolaas share more of the thinking behind the project:

Bacterially

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