A trip to the zoo
Remember when you were a kid, and how excited you were to find out you got to go to the zoo? Remember how thrilling it was to get to see all of those wild and sometimes scary, sometimes cute animals you had only read about in books? Well, that’s exactly how I felt as I spent the last 6 weeks interning at Jasper Hill Farm and Cellars in Greensboro, VT.
See, I’m a microbiologist, and for me, those wild and unseen animals are the microbes I’ve spent so many years studying.
Even though we are surrounded by microbes every day of our lives, we rarely get the chance to see them and watch as they go about their simple but fascinating lives (eat, grow, divide, repeat…). Microbes contribute to many important processes on our planet, but their tastiest contribution by far is cheese.
Microbes (specifically, the lactic acid bacteria) are essential for turning milk into curds and whey, and a completely different collection of bacteria and fungi form the rinds of cheese during the aging process. It’s these organisms on the rind that really make me feel like a kid at the zoo. There are grey, white and yellow fuzzy molds and red, pink and orange colonies of bacteria. Who are they? Where did they come from? And, what are they doing, exactly? Are they talking to each other? Or are they just fighting it out for a prime spot on the cheese? These are the questions I’ll be asking in my research as I start a lab focused on the microbial ecosystems of cheese rinds. I can’t wait to start to uncover some of the mysteries of these wild and sometimes scary, sometimes cute (but usually delicious) microbes.