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Scientists make cheese from human toe jam

Scientists make cheese from human toe jam

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Eating the coagulated lactations of other animals is one of humanity's stranger habits, but rest assured that cheese derived from cow's, goat's, and sheep's milk has nothing on this. Selfmade is an exhibit that hosts a number of cheeses crafted from cells collected from human bodies. Part art, part science, it's the work of Christina Agapakis and Prof. Sissel Tolaas, who sampled microbes from human mouths, toes, navels, and even tears to craft a set of 11 unique cheeses for Grow Your Own, a synthetic biology exhibition at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin.

ToecheeseCheese made from toe microbes. (Dezeen / Selfmade)

Agapakis, a biologist currently finishing her post-doc at UCLA, was interested in cultivating discussion around how we interact with bacteria in our daily lives. Tolaas, an artist who works extensively with odors and describes herself as "a professional in-betweener" given the intersections of her work with other fields, hoped to "challenge the notion that 'bad' smells should be deoderized," Agapakis says. "People have a mixture of repulsion and attraction to cheese, and this gives us a chance to have a really interesting conversation about bacteria and odors, and why they might gross people out."

The two used swabs to collect the bacteria, including some from Michael Pollan's belly button, which they then grew in petri dishes. From there, each sample was added to milk in order to create the cheese. Although each cheese carries something of a unique bacterial signature from its human donor, Agapakis says you wouldn't know it from taking a sniff. "Each one smells different, but I don't think the smells mimic the odor of the person," she says. And those considering a nibble might want to think twice. "I'm not a professional cheese-maker, so there is a health risk there," Agapakis notes. "These aren't for human consumption."

Katie Drummond contributed to this report.