Cheese made from human skin microbes

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

cheese smelling
Researchers Christina Agapaki (right) and Sissel Tolaas (left) take a big whiff of cheese.

UCLA scientist Christina Agapakis and artist Sissel Tolaas have combined their creative (and twisted) minds to develop cheese made from their own skin microbes. Yep, human bacteria instead of good old cheddar!

Usually, cheese is made by “curdling” milk with Lactobacillus bacteria (which comes from plants or animals). Then, it’s aged with the help of yeast to develop some flavor. However, this bacteria isn’t particularly difficult to find, and can actually be taken from just about anywhere.

Here’s where it gets downright disgusting. Agapakis took some bacteria from her mouth and skin, the belly button of a food writer, and a fellow scientist’s feet. Now, if that sounds about as stinky as cheese, there’s a good reason for it. See, Agapakis wondered, “Why are we more uncomfortable with bacteria on the body than we are with bacteria in cheese?”

Before your stomach churns like curdling milk, this cheese isn’t meant to be eaten. “People were really nervous and uncomfortable and kind of making these grossed out faces,” explains Agapakis. “Then they smell the cheese, and they’ll realize that it just smells like a normal cheese.”

The wacky scientist hopes to get people thinking about bacteria and smells. “Cheese is actually a really great model organism for us to think about good and bad bacteria but also good and bad smells,” she said at a PopTech conference presentation. Agapakis asked, “Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies?” By raising awareness about these themes with her attention-grabbing experiments, Agapakis hopes to provide an entertaining education.

Images courtesy of Synthetics Aesthetics.