(photo copyright ©2011 The Boston Globe)
The Boston Globe looks at two Harvard microbiologists in the first year of an exhaustive 5-year study into the microscopic ecosystems thriving in the caves and on the rinds of the cheesemaking world. The Cellars at Jasper Hill offered a rich environment for study:
Rachel Dutton, a Harvard microbiologist…was searching for a community to study that was complex, but not too complex, and that was naturally isolated. One day, she realized that she’d been eating her ideal subject all her life: cheese…Along with postdoctoral fellow Benjamin Wolfe, Dutton is now in year one of a five-year project at Harvard University’s Center for Systems Biology to re-create those island communities in the lab and see who prospers, who gets double-crossed, and who gets voted off the island. To do that, they need to isolate all the organisms from a particular cheese, culture them in the lab, and then reintroduce them to each other in a number of different trials under slightly varied circumstances, and watch what happens.
“Eventually we’d like to understand the genes and pathways that are responsible for how these organisms live together,” Dutton says.
Dutton and Wolfe began their project by visiting Jasper Hill Farm, a Vermont cheesemaker known for having the most diverse cheese cellar in America, and scraping samples from its cheese rinds. They’ve already found 15 different species of microbes on Winnimere, a washed-rind cheese known for its multifaceted flavor and cantankerous aroma. Some of their findings were unsurprising, such as a bacterium previously found on Europe’s most delicious washed-rind cheeses. Others were revelations, including several bacteria previously found only in extreme environments like the Arctic Ocean and Norwegian fjords. Some of those species persist, covering the rind in colorful blooms, while others give way to new species, the way a grassy pasture gives way to trees.
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