We are studying the bacteria and fungi that exist in cheese products. Many of the microorganisms living in the foods you eat are beneficial to you and produce the flavors that make fermented dairy products particularly unique. The microbial communities can vary between cheese types depending on how they are made, from the host organism milk source to the final aging process.
We use molecular lab techniques and advanced instruments to analyze the DNA of the cheese bacteria and fungi and create a profile of the predominant microbial organisms present. We will also culture the cheese bacteria on agar plates and see which bacteria and fungi grow. The microbial communities might be different than you think.
Our quest is to identify the microbes that are beneficial to our health and the diversity that exists between cheeses from many different heritages.
We are also interested in understanding the influences of how and when people consume cheese in their diet. Much like how the genetic trait of eye color is passed down from one generation to the next, certain behavioral traits, like food preference, can be inherited through the influence of both genetics and the environment. People may or may not enjoy the same cheeses as their ancestors. For instance, one might be attracted by the same flavors and textures in Swiss cheese because their great-grandparents live in Switzerland, or they may have adapted to the different cheese types they were exposed to while growing up in the US.
In addition to developing taste preferences by trying different cheeses, our genes can also influence our dietary choices. For example, lactose intolerance is a common condition where people have a deficiency in the enzyme lactase, thus preventing the breakdown of lactic acid in dairy foods. There are varying degrees of lactose intolerance, which might cause some to include only certain types of cheese in their diet, while others omit cheese all together.
Cheese not only has an enjoyable taste, but also comes with beneficial microorganisms impacting our gut health. However, if the cheese is consumed fully cooked (above 252℉), one may not obtain these benefits.
Want to learn more about this and other projects?
Email the Genomics & Microbiology Lab at NRCgenomicsMicro@gmail.com and put “Citizen Science” in the Subject line to get email updates about our citizen science projects. (sent 1-2 times a month)