BYU Radio

Maybe We Could Think of Them as Pets?

by Julie Rose, head producer of “The Morning Show," on BYU Radio

“I did look at the bacteria under a microscope.  They’re very cute,” says writer Julia Scott.  

Scott spent a month cultivating a colony of very special bacteria on her skin in the name of science. We read her fascinating – and skin crawling – account in the New York Times Sunday Magazine and had to know more, so we rang Scott up. 

Few of us would go without soap, deodorant or shampoo for a single week, let alone four. But Scott did, and says the friends and family she coerced into sniffing her during that time were not repulsed by her scent.  Why? Because she was misting herself daily with an active culture of bacteria called Nitrosomonas eutropha which feast on ammonia (a key contributor to body odor).

As soon as the experiment ended and Scott went back to using soap, her carefully-cultivated microbiome of body-odor-beating-bacteria went buh-bye.   “I was sorry to see them go. I’d become kind of attached and felt like I’d committed mass-bacteriacide,” she lamented to us on The Morning Show. 

Sitting in the control room during that interview, I watched a range of reactions flash across host Marcus Smith’s face. He was grossed-out, but also fascinated. And by the end of the conversation, he’d clearly warmed to the idea of growing his own Nitrosomonas eutropha.  “Maybe we could think of them as pets?” he queried.  (To which Scott replied, “Down boy!”)

Isn’t that exactly what a self-proclaimed Luddite would do? Soap is, after all, a new technology that appears to have fundamentally disrupted the natural, bacteria-rich state of our skin (putting them out of business, just like the powered looms and spinning frames Luddite artisans protested in 19th Century England.)  Marcus made the connection himself, during the interview with Scott: if you eschew new-fangled developments, well then, maybe you should say no to suds!

We’ll let you know if he makes the leap.  

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