Need to have a better understanding of microbial ecosystems? Well, Dr. Rachel Dutton, whose lab is in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California San Diego, has a suggestion.
At the Dutton lab researchers, led by Dr. Dutton, study the complex worlds of microbes living in multi-species communities. These complex systems are difficult to understand so Dutton’s team uses simplified microbial communities as model systems in order to understand the basic mechanics at work within the communities.
More specifically it is the drivers of species interactions and the identification of general principles of community formation that their research focuses on. So, what model system do they use? Why, cheese of course. Yes cheese. Dutton has found that the microbial communities of cheese are easily culturable, rich in species interactions, relatively simple, and undergo reproducible dynamics of community assembly. Using the experimental system previously created at the lab they hope to provide the scientific community with tools and strategies for understanding more complex communities.
Earning her doctorate in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Harvard Medical School in 2010, Dutton was awarded a Bauer Fellowship to create her own lab at the Center for Systems Biology at Harvard to undertake a five-year project to sequence, analyze, and map the DNA of the organisms found in 160 different cheese rinds from around the world. It was in 2015 that the lab moved to UCSD as Dutton accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Molecular Biology department.
Research findings from her lab have been published in Wired Magazine, the New York Times and featured on NPR. As news of her work started spreading she began to get phone calls and emails from people trying to better understand the microbes at work in their foods. She is now working with chefs and cheese makers to develop fermented foods using native microbes.
In 2014 she was featured as part of 40 under 40 by the research journal Cell which highlighted scientists working in biology. Dutton and a research collaborator were recently featured in episode four of the Netlflix series Cooked.
Written by Angela Goad