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Citizens Science Sourdough Project with Dr. Erin McKenney

How does flour affect your sourdough starter? This presentation will center around Sourdough for Science, a citizen science project that launched in Wake and Alamance Counties this year. In February, 274 middle school students grew starters with 6 different flours, and compared differences in microbial growth and metabolism over time. We will present their results, including a hands-on activity where participants can compare the "flour effect" by smelling different starters and tasting breads baked from those starters. Raleigh’s Boulted Bread will have baked the breads we will be tasting and they will add to the conversation in regards to the experience of baking with the various cultures. We will also discuss how you can set up a similar project with students, friends, and neighbors. (Note that for this activity, participants would be comparing the effects of different flours, instead of different microbes.

Dr. Erin McKenney studies how microbial communities form over time and how they adapt to their environments. Over the past 8 years she has collected fecal samples from over 140 animals belonging to 15 species housed at 4 different zoos, to investigate the effects of host diet and lineage. More recently, she has expanded her research to sourdough and other fermented foods. Microbial cultures lie at the heart of human cultures, and fermented foods provide accessible systems for studying microbiology and nutrition without formal laboratory equipment. By combining citizen science and global collaborations, Erin brings research into the classroom to empower students of all ages.

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Photo by Lauren Nichols

Photo by Lauren Nichols