Trillium toasts to local ingredients, tastes –

“A Brookline home brewer cleared a major hurdle this week on the way to opening a brewery of “farmhouse”-style beer in Fort Point. “It’s not a come-and-have-pints-all-night type place, it’s a come-and-have-a-sampler type place,” said Trillium Brewing Co. owner Jean-Claude Tetrault, 34. Trillium, which will have a storefront with a small tasting bar, scored a zoning variance Tuesday that allows for the manufacturing of beer on the site. Tetrault will apply for state and federal licensing in the next few weeks.”

This is indeed a nice story. Looking forward to having a few of their beers.

[via @IDBoston]

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Predicting a Human Gut Microbiota’s Response to Diet in Gnotobiotic Mice

“A model community of 10 sequenced human gut bacteria was introduced into gnotobiotic mice, and changes in species abundance and microbial gene expression were measured in response to randomized perturbations of four defined ingredients in the host diet. From the responses, we developed a statistical model that predicted over 60% of the variation in species abundance evoked by diet perturbations, and we were able to identify which factors in the diet best explained changes seen for each community member. The approach is generally applicable, as shown by a follow-up study involving diets containing various mixtures of pureed human baby foods.”

Another great report I can’t read at the moment (no subscription). This sounds like a nice analysis of something everyone has been seeing. Looking to see effect of other diets, beyond the baby food tested.

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anti-mega at Interesting 2011

“The nature of the day was participatory, so instead of doing a presentation on stage (as I did at Interesting 2007), this time I attempted to get all 200ish people in the room trying, making and tasting things. By-the-by, this is also one of the hardest things I’ve done in years – scaling to 200 people took an awful amount of thinking and prep. Apologies if I’ve seemed scatty in the last few weeks.”

Always something fun and interesting from this guy. He’s a practical microbiologist too!

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Gut bacteria in Japanese people borrowed sushi-digesting genes from ocean bacteria | Discover Magazine

“Nori is, by far, the most likely source of bacteria with porphyran-digesting genes. It’s the only food that humans eat that contains any porphyrans and until recently, Japanese chefs didn’t cook nori before eating it. Any bacteria that lingered on the green fronds weren’t killed before they could mingle with gut bacteria like B.plebius. Ruth Ley, who works on microbiomes, says, “People have been saying that gut microbes can pick up genes from environmental microbes but it’s never been demonstrated as beautifully as in this paper.””

Japanese gut bacteria picking up genes from marine bacteria that live on seaweed. This blew my mind, but I am not surprised. We do know that there can be rapid gene changes in humans (ADH, lactase), why shouldn’t there be rapid changes in our fellow microbiomes? Very interesting implications with respect to therapy and diets.

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The Great Beyond: Nitrogen fertilizer: too much of a good thing

“Overuse of nitrogen fertilizer costs the European Union €70 billion – €320 billion per year, according to a landmark assessment of nitrogen flows across Europe, released today (11 April) at a workshop on nitrogen and global change in Edinburgh, UK.”

I can’t help but think there’s a practical microbial answer to this. The whole use of chemicals in farming is twisted. I think with all our science, we could do better.

Bookmarked in Delicious.

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Microbiopolitics and the Post-Pasteurian Age

I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this amazing paper from MIT anthropologist, Heather Paxson. Heather has been doing research into the culture, business, and politics around cheese. In this paper (link below), she talks about the politics around cheese made from raw milk.

Raw milk, milk that is not pasteurized, is making a comeback (check out this article from the globe). And it flies in the convention of our predominantly sterile mentality (morality?) of antibiotics, pasteurization, anti-bacteria soaps, latex glove, masks, and hand sanitizers. Since the Ghost Map was drawn, we’ve been getting better and better at separating ourselves from microorganisms.

One big guy who changed how we deal with microorganisms was Loius Pasteur (ironically, I work a few blocks from a road named after him). Based on his work, we regularly “pasteurize” things like milk through high heat and pressure to kill all the microorganisms, good and bad.

Our pasteurized world has indeed been good to us health-wise. Indeed, my wife, a vet, knows all too well what could happen if one ingested spoiled raw milk. Why take a chance? Though I do think there might be a middle ground, what with all the understanding and science we have. But there’s something indicative when you have to sign a waiver to buy raw milk.

Which takes us to the raw milk cheese. The process of making cheese uses microbes to turn raw unpasteurized milk in to a safe and stable product. That’s why humans have made all sorts of “controlled spoilage” foods. And the microbes that grow on cheese can be beneficial to our health (much like folks now claim with live yoghurt).

But the idea of a product made from unpasteurized milk flies in the face of our ingrained Pasteurian ideals. Paxson analyzes the microbiopolitics that arises from this cognitive dissonance.

Paxson is not some anti-Pasteurian extremist, she knows that there’s a reason we keep an eye on the microbes on our food. She also knows that, at least with cheese making, worrying about raw milk does not make sense, considering the microbiology and tradition of cheese making. And the cheese maker she profiles is a great example of the balance of careful practice of microbiology and deep craft of cheese production.

In the past few years, there has been an increase in the numbers of reports regarding asthma, intestinal diseases, skin conditions, superbugs, and other health effects from a sterile, Pasteurian world gone too far. Paxson’s work fits in that discussion thread. To me, the discussion around raw milk cheese will do more (more so than raw milk alone) to awake us to a post-Pasteurian world where we understand the role of microbes in our life and food (check out this raw milk cheese manifesto, too).

And if you’re curious about practical uses of microbes and the future balance between man and bug, you’d read her article (download the PDF or go to Paxson’s site). And then let me know what you think of the coming Post-Pasteurian Age.

Image from Boston Globe