Selfmade is a collaborative project with Sissel Tolaas for Synthetic Aesthetics, a project run by the University of Edinburgh and Stanford University to bring together synthetic biologists, designers, artists and social scientists to explore collaborations between synthetic biology, art and design.
Selfmade is a series of ‘microbial sketches’, portraits reflecting an individual’s microbial landscape in a unique cheese. Each cheese is crafted from starter cultures sampled from the skin of a different person. Isolated microbial strains were identified and characterised using microbiological techniques and 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing. Like the human body, each cheese has a unique set of microbes that metabolically shape a unique odour. Cheese odours were sampled and characterised using headspace gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis, a technique used to identify and/or quantify volatile organic compounds present in a sample. A short film documenting the process of cheesemaking, along with interviews of the bacterial donors accompanies the cheese display and the data from microbiological and odour analysis. Visitors to the gallery are exposed to the diversity of life in their food and bodies, and a diversity of visions for future synthetic biologies.
This project explores possibilities for a relational synthetic biology through the practices of cheesemaking. Cheesemaking involves a complex coordination of microbial life, promoting the growth of beneficial Lactobacillus strains that protect milk from more dangerous spoilage and the ecologies of microbes on the rind that create the prized flavours of different cheese varieties.