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The Power of Two

Empty Your Mind
April 17, 2014 1:40 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

I have always believed in the power of meditation. Meditation means different things to different people. Some people take lifelong courses in yoga and other techniques to learn how to meditate. Others like me, just squeeze out some quiet time in a serene place for a few minutes of relaxation.

Oncology’s Mindfulness-Based Meditation: Canada

I was both intrigued and pleased to read an article about how the University of Montreal was using meditation technique to help teenagers to ease some of the symptoms brought on by cancer. The University and the affiliate medical team at CHU Sainte-Justine Children’s Hospital are calling the technique “mindfulness-based meditation”. 

The whole premise of the technique is that it focuses on the present moment and the connection between the mind and body. The goal is to reduce anxiety about the uncertainty of the disease. This reduction of stress appears to also reduce the severity of the physical symptoms, as well.

Psychiatry’s Mindfulness Meditation: United States

In another part of the globe, a medical team at the John Hopkins Medicine (JHM) is encouraging those receiving psychiatric care to undergo a thirty minute daily regime, title “mindfulness meditation”. The technique is based on a version of Buddhist self-awareness. The goal is to reduce some of the pain symptoms as well as stress.

A research team based in the JHM’s Division of General Internal Medicine puts forth the idea that anxiety and depression symptoms can be relieved via meditation. The exception being that the individual is not in full-blown anxiety or depression. Medical cases involved in JHM eight-week long research project included participants health issues, including anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia, alcohol and substance use, cancer, diabetes and chronic pain. The findings revealed moderate evidence of improvement in symptoms.

It A Cellular Thing

One thing that all scientists agree on and that is the changes not only occur at the macro level, but also at the microscopic level.  So whether the technique is Buddha, Zen or just slowing down to empty the mind, it is good to see physical science to linking collaboratively with mind science to holistically provide patients with a holistic approach to health and wellness.

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Don’t Wash Your Ears
April 11, 2014 2:55 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Now I have heard of everything. Just recently I read that scientists have discovered that by smelling individual’s ear - or earwax to be more precise - the scent can lead you to determine their ethnicity. Scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center have uncovered that depending on the race of the ear owner, the earwax’s (also known by the medical term “cerumen”) smell varies. In addition, examination of the earwax can determine whether or not an individual is of African, East Asian or European decent based on the wet-to-dry consistencies and colorations.

Name Brand or Generic

As a scientist, I find these findings totally fascinating. I have never given more than a thought about the sticky secretions that are produced by my ear glands. I have though longer about which type of ear cotton swabs to purchase, name brand or generic? But evidently some creative scientists have thought long and hard about earwax. Hooray for their ingenuity.

Whales and Humans

About a year ago, you may have heard (Yeah, that’s a pun.) that biologists discovered that the earwax from blue whales reveal their testosterone and stress levels, as well as all of the  pollutants encountered during their travels. These scientists theorized that earwax one day may even be able to tell medical scientist about an individual’s diet, genetics and environmental influences on their physiology.

I am smiling as I write this because which of us does not remember being sent back to the bathroom by a parent to re-wash our ears before going off to bed? If our parents only knew, we were washing away a gold mine of biological data.

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Can You Say Loophole?
April 8, 2014 12:10 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

A friend of mine, who happens to be an attorney, loves to curl his lips as he rolls the words, “litigious”  and “loophole” off his tongue. He is so cheerful when he enunciate these terms; you would think that he is preparing for a singing role in a opera. His favorite phase is, “We live in a litigious and loophole society”.

Well, he is partly right on this matter. These days you can file a lawsuit against a lightning bug (Lampyridae aka firefly), if the bug’s flashes her light too often for your liking. The problem is lawsuits often get tangled up for years before being resolved or settled. This brings me to the theme of this post – confusing healthcare loopholes.

FDA and NIH Mind Merge
Just recently, I was reading that the future of commercializing a promising stem cell research finding for blindness and age-related muscular degenerative may be held up due to loopholes and legal red tape involving two governmental agencies. The hold up has to do with proactive versus reactive (after the fact) testing of potential embryo disease HIV, hepatitis and infectious microorganisms that may be laying dormant.

It seems that the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) research rules and guidelines do not match up with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations for embryonic stem cell research and therapies. 

Why is this important? It’s important because the consequence may mean that the research findings can end up not moving beyond the researcher’s lab bench onto the market place which is the ultimate goal.

I’ll keep you posted if a resolution between NIH and FDA occurs in the near future.

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Beauty Made To Order
April 1, 2014 2:06 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

If we truly know and accept that physical beauty is superficial and not as important as a person’s intellectual, emotional and spiritual qualities, then why is the cosmetic industry a multi-billion business?

People of all ages -- preteens to geriatrics -- are consumed with smoothing out wrinkles and acquiring eyes, lips and other features similar to famed actors and entertainers. Major and minor surgeries are being performed at enormous cost in the quest for breath-taking beauty. Even the disclaimers of operative risks and complications are not a deterrent.

You would think with all of the heightened media blitz’s about cosmetic-related bacterial infections and their resistance to antibiotics that there would be a marked reduction in procedures, but this is not the case according to the healthcare media.

Newest Alert: Facial Fillers & Infections

Just last week, the newest health alert was directed to the customers who walk into salons right off the street to have fillers injected into the face to either smooth out wrinkles or to puff up their lips. The results to this procedure are that emergency rooms and dermatologists are being visited by an increased number of patients with adverse side effects that will not heal. The complication, it seems, is caused by bacterial infections. These unwanted infections ultimately lead to gross lumps and lesions. It is believed that the unattractive facial lumps are due to skin bacteria being injected into the skin when it is punctured with the needle.

Consumer Suggestions

The collaborative efforts of the CDC, laboratories professionals and public health entities are doing their job to educate the consumer by informing them that pre-health assessment along with good hygiene before, during and after all cosmetic procedures at a reputable business are very important. But a stern warning is also given in that even these steps are not a guarantee for avoiding cosmetic infections.

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Neanderthal Dentists
March 26, 2014 9:08 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

As biologists, we know when a living organism dies, the teeth and bones exist on for thousands of years. Today I was reading article about not only the teeth, but tooth tartar being found in the mouths of humans living over a thousands of years.

This is fascinating in that the bacterium that lives on thousand-year old teeth can be compared to current day bacteria inhabitants. It seems that dental plaque accumulates at the base of teeth and is mineralized when calcium and phosphorus in saliva combine to form calcium phosphate.

This hardening process locks bacteria into a crystalline matrix similar to bone, entombing and preserving dead microbes for thousands of years.

Current collaborative dental and archeology research support that the DNA found in ancient tooth tartar can show what bacterial communities that have lived in human mouths for 8,000 years. For example, genetic studies on a small piece of dental tartar from a thousand year old jaw illustrated the differences in the oral bacteria of early humans as compared with modern humans.

The research idea was the brain child of both biological anthropologist Alan Cooper and archaeologist Keith Dobney. A gift of an aged block of fossilized tartar from Dobney to Cooper promoted the microbial study of food trace elements. Cooper's research afforded him to gaze into the evolution of the human micro biota and of human disease. A little over 20 years since the gift from Dobney couple with more modern lab technology, scientist Cooper and his colleagues has been able to trace how the bacterial communities that live in our mouths have changed over the past several thousand years.

We know from modern dentistry that bacteria found in our mouths are constantly in contact with our digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory tracts which have multiple health and nutritional considerations. The findings of Cooper and others interested in this collaborative field will assist genetic archaeology on a promising path for disease prevention and wellness implications for the future.

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Night Light Show
March 20, 2014 3:25 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

When I was a child, the night light that my parents flicked on at dusk was basically a plain, white, small wall plugin. No complaints here. The night lights did it job of illuminating the dark creepy corners of my bedroom.

But the designs and colors of night lights have come a long way since then. Manufacturers offer large selections of decorative night lights which include shapes in the forms of speed boats, clowns, even burgers and fries. They can also be activated by dim lights, human touch, motion or a timer. And in addition to electric plug in, they now can be battery operated or solar.

I wonder what the next evolution will be, which brings me to a similar topic. Did you know that scientists recently discovered dying worms emit a glow? Yes it true. A wave of blue fluorescence lightening coming from an aged worm signals the death of a nematode worm. It seems that a circuitry phenomena occurs within the final hours of a worm's life, a wave of cell signals emit a bright blue light along the length of its body.

At first scientists deduce that worms accumulate lipofuscin components (cellular waste) as they aged. But researchers at the University College London (UCL) theorize that fluorescence light may be a buildup of lysosome-like gut granules.

David Gems and his UCL team put forth another finding and that is it doesn't matter what the age of the worm is. In fact worms dying at any age -- including larvae -- will emit the blue fluorescence light at death. Their research is showing that the contents of isolated granules from the worms' intestinal cells reveal the true source of blue fluorescence and that source is a substance called anthranilate. Anthranilate is activated upon cell death is released into the more alkaline cytoplasm, activating its fluorescence. Inhibiting pathways involved in necrosis prevented the death-related burst of fluorescence.

Furthermore, Gems and his team have found that the fluorescence essentially acts as a marker of necrosis as the worm is dying. These findings have implications in the field of cardiovascular medicine. It seems that very subtle light waves of necrosis have also been observed in cases of damaged tissues within humans suffering a heart attack or stroke. Researchers believe that these worm studies may have medical implications on how necrosis spreads from cell to cell in human disease, and how to cut off that spread.

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Prime Real Estate
March 18, 2014 11:27 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Could it be that particular microbes are prone to inhabit unique geographical niches? Just recently, research scientists have come to this conclusion that certain microbe prefer to live in chosen areas across major metropolitan urban sites. For example, scientists have began mapping and swabbing the bacterial microbiome in large metropolitan states such as New York, San Francisco and Washington.

Chris Mason, a genomicist of Weill Cornell Medical College, began exploring the bacterial microbiome of New York City, when a light bulb of an idea ignited from his encounter at his child's day center. He deduced that an urban day-care filled with toddlers carrying loads of microbes, and then the urban city itself must be a virtual microbial storehouse. Day-care microbial studies were already being conducted by researchers at Drexel University and Brooklyn College, so Mason decided to investigate on a larger scale -- the entire city.

The genomicist delegated the task of collecting more than 1,400 samples to a group of five New York City undergraduate students. They gathered samples from close to 500 urban subway stations. The students swabbed turnstiles and trains at all of the stations on a daily basis for close to 2 months. They even used their smart phones to snap photos at the locations.

Mason and his colleagues found clear evidence of diverse microbial life in each of New York's subway stations. In fact, many of the subway stations had their own unique profile of infectious bacterial (i.e. Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus) communities.

Plans are to extend the research to include taxis, airports and other public locations. It is said that this ingenious idea of categorizing and monitoring micro biomes of this large urban city could provide valuable microbial data of specific areas for municipal surveillance.

It should be noted that other researchers are engaged in the tasks of characterizing and monitoring the microbiomes of entire cities, such as the Bay area in San Francisco. The hope is that baselines for different viruses can be detected and developed within an environment so that fluctuations and potential outbreaks can be swiftly detected and dealt with.

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Starry Cells
March 11, 2014 2:30 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Every biography that you pick up will lead you to the conclusion that the artist, Vincent van Gogh was mentally disturbed. And he may have been, but one thing you cannot deny is that his painting titled "Starry Night" seems to be precursor for modern biological art. There is an undeniable resemble of some cell structures to the very stars he painted liberally onto the canvas depicting the night sky.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that van Gogh was a man ahead of his time. His lifetime predates electronic microscopy which we utilize today and are easily able to discern the star-shaped cells in the brain. Specifically, the astrocyte glial cells' name is derived from their star shape.

Oscar Wilde, the poet is quoted as saying, "One should be either a work of art, or wear a work of art." Little did he know when he made this statement almost two centuries ago, that he was true in that we wear art all the time (on us and within us) in the form of cells.

As life scientists we tend to think of the biochemical importance of cells, but artists are over the past decade view the basic membrane-bound units as visual art. Artists are using the advances in technology to provide breath taking microscopy photographs of cell structures.

Cells are not watery bags of blobs and globs. Depending on the type of cells, they take on a variety of different tissues, shapes and sizes. For example, blood cells take on a different characteristic than those of hair cells. In addition, cells present themselves in multiple geometric shapes and three-dimensional structures. These variations of shapes and sizes are the true essence of the creative art work we see today.

What's even more exciting is that artists are collaborating with life scientists at the time to uncover even more innovative approaches to creating art from life. For example, just recently I happened upon a website titled Yonder Biology. According to their website, "Yonder biology is a DNA art company based in San Diego, California. The team takes customers DNA code and turns it into printable work of art. Naturally the artwork is unique and one of a kind since it is derived from the individual customer.

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Food Choices Matter
March 6, 2014 11:33 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

We all know that drastic changes in eating habits change the external makeup of our bodies. But current research shows altercations in what we consume can also change the internal microbial makeup of the human gastro intestinal tract. In addition, the behavior of already present bacteria is altered as well.

Harvard microbiologist Peter Turnbaugh and his colleagues are providing research support that diet changes affect the microbiome ability of the intestines. A 5-day clinical study consisting of 10 volunteers showed the difference between diets consisting of only animal products compared to those which contained only a high-fiber, plant-only diet. Results published in the December magazine of Nature showed that the types of bacteria present remained largely unchanged, however the abundances and amounts varied swiftly in response to the type of dietary consumption.

It seems meat-eaters higher levels of bile-resistant bacteria and that there is physiological call for an increase expression of genes involved in breaking down proteins for digestion. Persons who are basically vegetative plant-eaters, seem to have fewer bile-resisting bacteria and higher gene expression levels associated with carbohydrate digestion. But what is notable is that when diet content is altered, a person's physiology changes swiftly to accommodate the meal type shift.

Scientists suggests the ability for the intestines to quickly react to changes is no doubt evolutionary based in that diet alterations may have provided our ancestors with increased meat to vegetable back to meat dietary flexibility. In other words, our guts are an evolutionary marvel.

I wonder what would Darwin say to this?

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Dream Ideas, Think Cash
March 3, 2014 12:27 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Ideas for improving healthcare mean absolutely nothing, when you do not have the money to bring your creations to life. Lately depending on which media you listen to, research grant money is either drying up or making a comeback. But the more unique your investigative idea, the more it seems that both private and public monetary angels will fly to you to give cash to your endeavor.

Recently, many scientists across the nation were holding their breath watching for the outcome of the Senate farm-bill. The hope was that the passage of this legislation would mean a continuance of $8.6 million federal grant for agriculture and farm biology. The good news is that both the Senate and Congress representatives saw the wisdom of allocating the funds and the bill was sent to President Barack Obama for his approval signature. With the passage of the farm bill much needed agricultural research, such as investigating how to increase the bee pollination of crops could resume.

Biologists are always looking for creative ways to fund their research. There is hope with funding from the likes of the Golden Goose Awards (GGA). For example, the biologists who discovered a thermophilic bacterium were the recipients of the recent GGA. This group as well as other financial angels encourages innovative and creative research ideas, because they have come to realize that medical genius can come from peculiar and oddball ideas.

Support for funding basic science research is a bi-partisan activity. Everyone, regardless of political affiliation, agrees evidence-based science projects will only help the country excel. For example, congressional support representatives Charlie Dent (R-Philadelphia) and Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee) are very involved as coalition members with the GGA Awards program.

The GGA has seen to it that several ground breaking societal and healthcare breakthroughs occurred including but not limited to, a mathematical algorithm designed to place the maximum number of men and women with their perfect matches for marriage; later the model was used help match kidney disease patients with transplants and new doctors with appropriate hospitals.

Other examples include the one of biologists who identified the bacterium Thermus aquaticus from samples collected at Yellowstone National Park's hot springs; later the enzyme from the heat-tolerant bacterium was used in the development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This model revolutionized biomedical research and gave biotechnology and genomics a tremendous boost.

The key point is innovative ideas are the attraction with the goal of benefiting mankind in the areas of economic and/or public health societally significant.

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Tick Tock Snacks
February 27, 2014 9:02 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Have you noticed that late night television viewing is now en vogue? Anything that's everything popular concerning music, fashion and movies comes on after 11:00 p.m. In fact, some of the best chef and restaurant shows are screened on late night TV.

Unfortunately we are told that in order to not gain weight we should not eat after 8:00 p.m. The rationale for this is that early eating allows for the burning off of calories before nodding off to dreamy land.

This year, my new year's resolution is to go to bed earlier, thereby reducing my midnight trips to the refrigerator. If I find myself breaking this commitment, current research regarding findings that the earth's rotation is directly linked to human metabolism will set me straight again.

The earth rotational studies state that the circadian rhythms of our physiology and biochemistry reflect the daily cycles of the planet. It is theorized that diabetes, obesity and heart disease could occur when humans fall out of sync with these earth 24 hour sleep/wake cycles.

We know from sleep studies that depression and other ailments are also more common among people who don't have normal sleep habits. Could altered patterns of food consumption occurring at strange night hours also play adverse roles in the smooth functioning of physiological states?

Historically, daylight hours are the dictated the time of for eating, so it only seems logical that midnight snacking is maladapted eating. Opposing these allotted time-fames for feeding may challenge our bodies' normal cycles and according to research may lead to unhealthy consequences.

So, while late night television is all the rage now, I thinking of dusting off the old video tape recorder; taping the shows to watch when the sun is high is the sky; and the snacking when the earth's daytime rhythm is saying to me "Eat, eat, eat."

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CSI on Tuberculosis
February 25, 2014 11:19 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

I am a huge fan of all of the original and cloned CSI television shows. For those of you who are not in the know -- CSI is the acronym for Crime Scene Investigation. The television dramas are forensic science based utilizing the power of deduction and laboratory skills to solve cases.

Vitamin C is known for its importance in the human diet. As of late, there has been much chatter on how this vitamin can be lethal to certain pathogens.

There are ongoing pathology and food science research studies which show that vitamin C may be able to actually can literally "murder" Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB). Specifically, there is an essential nutrient housed within vitamin C that is capable of killing -- yes killing -- the drug-
resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This is done by the vitamin producing oxidative radicals that damages TB's DNA.

Entire populations of drug-resistant strains of the bacteria which causes TB can be destroyed may be able to be destroyed with high doses of vitamin C. The destructions occur as a result of a chemical reaction that produces high levels of DNA-damaging oxidative radicals. The actual dosage levels are still being investigated.

This valuable research finding has prompted new promise on the TB treatment topic by pharmaceutical manufacturers. Findings suggest it may be possible for swifter treatment to occur if vitamin C is added to current TB medications for the hard-to-kill bacteria.

How exciting is this?

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Chocolate Neurons
February 19, 2014 12:41 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Globally, chocolate is such a well loved food that there are literally hundreds of quotations describing the joys and mysteries of eating it. Two of my favorite quotes are:

"Exercise is a dirty word. Every time I hear it, I wash my mouth out with chocolate." --Charles M. Schultz

"Put ‘eat chocolate' at the top of your list of things to do today. That way, at least you'll get one thing done." --Author Unknown

Regardless of which part of the planet you reside, chocolate represents a nurturing comfort food or a weight gain enemy. But one thing we all know for sure is due to extensive scientific research, chocolate has significant health benefits.

For example, chocolate affects your brain in the following ways: it increases alertness and reduces fatigue; it is an endorphin mood elevator; it provides stimulation to the central nervous system; and it triggers dopamine neurotransmitters for producing happiness and pleasure reactions.

Neurology has shown that chocolate aids blood flow in the brain thereby increasing brain activity for cognitive functioning and neuron communication. These findings are particularly important for memory retention and gerontology science.

Finally, there is additional evidence that dark chocolate may protect the brain after a stroke by shielding nerve cells from additional damage. It seems that the digestion of prescribed doses of chocolate results in increased cellular signals and benefits to the cardiovascular system.

Over the years, there have been literally volumes published of studies illustrating the benefits of this food stuff. And since I love, love chocolate -- last month I was particularly excited to read a Wall Street Journal article that stated Nestle, a chocolate food manufacturer is planning to spend money to test its products on human brain and liver cells.

Nestle plans to obtain the stem-cell-like mature human cells from the biotech firm Cellular Dynamics Internationals Incorporated to determine the nutritional health benefits of enhanced drinks, smoothies and other products.

I am most happy that food manufacturers are contributing money for ongoing clinical research endeavors. All of this investigating of chocolates can only lead to more appetizing findings.

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Bolo Punching MRSA
February 17, 2014 10:33 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

I love sock ‘em, rock 'em fight movies, especially those that contain oddly matched opponents. For example, fights between Dracula and Godzilla or better yet, King Kong and the Invisible Man. Why would these teams be great? Because you wouldn't be able to guess in a million years who is going to win.

And isn't it neat how each sport has its own unique jargon? For example, wrestling uses the acronym TKO (technical knockout), while boxing on the other hand has a term called "bolo punch." A bolo punch is a flashy wide sweeping uppercut with one hand, which is used to distract the opponent so that you can hit them with your other hand.

Lately, because of new risky synthetic drug developments under consideration to address antibiotic resistant methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), I've been thinking about a need for a fight matching a virus against the bacteria. Viruses are so versatile and mysterious that I am sure they can muster up a bolo punch to the resistant bacteria.

Evidently I am not the only one thinking alone these lines. The pharmaceutical industry is looking into designing new combat drugs that have the tactics of a virus to attack and destroy bacteria that have become immune to antibiotics.

Scientists are turning to viruses as a drug model with the hopes of when used, they will "infect" the actual bacteria. The theory is that these drugs will mimic the cell-wall busting viral enzymes called lysins. And because viral lysins appear to resist bacterial evolution, the results would render them ineffective over time. How is that for a bolo punch knockout?

Currently the Rockefeller University's bacterial pathogenesis and immunology labs are putting forth the virus model for address the antibiotic drug resistance that has become a major issue in hospitals. This new approach may be one method in which to effectively combat the deadly strains of bacteria, such as MRSA. The potential outcomes of a virus-based intervention are groundbreaking.

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Cheeseology
February 12, 2014 11:57 AM by Eleanor Wolfram
I don't think there's a person in my entourage who eats burgers without cheese. Cheese is a "must have" commodity. We never leave home without it.

The following bullets only support the value of cheese on planet earth. Cheesy facts include:

  • Mention of cheese traces back to ancient Greek Homer's Odyssey Cyclops myth.
  • To date there are more than 250 varieties of cheese known to man.
  • Worldwide cheese consumption has triple over the past 3 decades.
  • An average person eats a minimum of 25 pounds of cheese annually.
  • Cheese is valued for its portability, long life, protein and calcium.
  • Allegedly cheddar, mozzarella and American cheeses can help prevent tooth decay.

As you can see cheese is important and undoubtedly will be important in the future.

Cheese is so well loved and  vital that some "creative" researchers collaborated to create fermented cheese smells -- not from milk products -- but instead from microbes harvested from some parts of the human body.

Yes you read that right.

Christina Agapakis a post doctorate student out of the University of California Los Angeles and  Sissel Tolaas a artist/scent researcher/artist constructed cheeses using microbes harvested from human beings. Microbes from donors' bellybuttons, mouths, tears and skin were collected.

The manufactured cheese was not meant for human consumption.  Instead the "Self-made" work was just one of many collections on display at in the Grow Your Own synthetic biology exhibition title "Self-made" in the, a new exhibition on, at the Science Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin up through January 14, 2014.

To Agapakis and Tolaas' credit visitors thus far to the exhibit state that the smell of the variety of cheese they created from human specimens smell just like typical cheese.

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