Scientists make cheese from armpit, feet microbes

(Fotolia)

(Fotolia)

Relaxnews

, Last Updated: 11:29 AM ET

American scientists have created cheeses made from microbes found in the human bellybutton, armpits and feet in their attempt to make us get over our hang-ups about bacteria.

At an international science event in Dublin exploring synthetic biology this month, American scientist Christina Agapakis and Norwegian scent expert Sissel Tolaas presented a range of cheeses they call, "Selfmade."

All 11 cheeses are produced from human microbes, harvested from areas of the body that are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria: the nose, armpit, the space between toes, and the bellybutton.

Listen to Agapakis explain her research at a PopTech conference.

One block of perfectly innocuous-looking cheese, for instance, is actually made entirely from the bellybutton bacteria of U.S. food writer Michael Pollan. Another is made from saliva, and yet another from feet.

Their research, however, is more than simply about provoking squeamish reactions, says Agapakis, but to challenge our relationship to bacteria and microbes and help us overcome prejudices, particularly at a time when sales of anti-bacterial cleaners and hand sanitizers enjoy booming growth.

"We not only live in a biological world surrounded by rich communities of microorganisms, but in a cultural world that emphasizes total antisepsis," reads the exhibit's artist statement.

"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?"

Scientists also found that cheeses took on the body odor of different contributors.

While the products aren't meant for human consumption, the human cheese research also speaks to the general notion of food prejudices, particularly in the West.

Over the last few years, the United Nations, for example, has been trying to get Westerners to get over their squeamishness about insects and bugs - a protein and nutrient-rich food source that scientists say could help mitigate the growing demand for meat.

Beetles, caterpillars, wasps and insect larvae are consumed by a third of the world's population, notably in Mexico, Africa, China and Southeast Asia, but are still considered inedible in the West.

Nor is it the first time that the human body has inspired food production. A gourmet ice cream shop in London nabbed headlines when it made ice cream made from human breast milk, while chef Daniel Angerer of Klee Brasserie in New York also used his wife's milk to make cheese for his restaurant a few years ago.


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