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Studying cheese reveals how microbes interact

Microbiologist Rachel Dutton's work focuses on bacterial ecosystems in rinds

6:00am, May 4, 2016
selection of cheeses

SAY CHEESE Fungi and bacteria shape the distinctive characters of a wide range of cheeses.

Rachel Dutton’s research is cheesy, by design. The microbiologist at the University of California, San Diego uses cheese rinds to study how microbes form communities.

Dutton, who has a long-standing interest in how bacteria and other microbes interact, got the inspiration for her studies several years ago while visiting the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. In the salt marshes there, multiple species of bacteria, archaea and other microbes were growing in thick, many-layered mats. They would have been perfect for studying microbes in groups. Except for one thing: Many organisms that thrive in those mats won’t grow in captivity. Dutton needed a microbe community that she could pick apart, manipulate and reconstruct in the lab.

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