During my Watson, I will meet with local producers of yogurt, cheese, miso, and more. I hope to hear the wonderful stories about starters that have deep value to the people who sustain them. I will seek out rare microbes in naturally fermented foods, but see tremendous value in commercialized starters as well. How is the same starter impacted by its environment? Are there differences in the final microbial community depending on the type of milk, humidity, and duration? I aim to take environmental samples from equipment to see how external microbes worm their way into seemingly stable starter cultures. When possible, I will acquire sequential samples from the same producer to see how the community shifts over time. In each country, I will extract DNA from local fermented food samples with the support of Qiagen and a host lab. At the end of my stay in a country, I will ship all frozen DNA samples to my partner professor, Prof. Nicholas Bokulich, at ETH Zurich. In July 2022, I will pull together my samples and perform 16S and ITS sequencing to identify microbial communities that reside within. I aim to create a family tree of all samples I collect, perhaps seeing that sheep milk yogurt from Greece and Ireland display striking differences, or store-bought miso from Iceland is not so different from traditional samples from Japan. I will analyze the data and gather my thoughts. At this point, I will draw conclusions about how ferments from around the world, with such unique stories and futures, can inform underlying biological principles about microbes.
I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to learn about the world -- big and small. With the daily changing pandemic situation, I continue to revise, update, and re-plan my journey. I expect a fair share of ups and downs. During the next eight months, I hope to learn to adapt, keep calm, and remain thankful for the time I have to travel, meet people, and do some science I love. I will post updates here along the way. If you have any questions, comments, or are interested to chat more, please feel free to reach out. Thank you for reading, I am sending my positive thoughts to you and the microbes inside you.