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Showerdough and Sourdough

Rob Dunn '97

Rob Dunn ’97

Rob Dunn ’97 is at it again; it being another citizen-science project (or two). And it (or they) are the subject of a fun and wonder-ful piece by Nicola Twilley, “What’s Lurking in Your Showerhead,” that appears in the December 8 issue of the New Yorker magazine.

Rob is an evolutionary biologist and professor at North Carolina State University. Twilley is one of 500 participants in his lab’s Showerhead Microbiome Project. Those volunteers (in Europe and the United States) swab the gunk in their showerheads and send the samples Rob’s lab. Twilley found it a tad gross, but Rob wonders if it’s a good thing–those microorganisms in our showerheads. Turns out our bodies are full of other bodies–we depend on them. In fact, those other bodies’ cells (in or on us!) may outnumber our own, making me more other than myself. Wow! Whether or not what’s in our showerheads is good (or not so good) for us remains to be tested. First we have to see what’s in there in order to ask the right questions. Rob’s full of those; he’s a K grad. He’s also interested in the effect (for good or ill) on our “showerdough” of different water treatment processes.

Please forgive that “showerdough” malapropism; there’s a reason for it. Rob’s second current citizen-science project is all about the affect of microrganisms on sourdough and, ultimately on the taste of sourdough bread–across space and time. Some really interesting things may be going on there! Read Twilley’s article to find out. Citizen-science is nothing new to the Dunn lab. He’s done projects on belly button lint, human facial mites, insects in the kitchen, and household dust. Robs the author of three popular science books and was featured (“The Ant on Aldebaran”) in the Fall 2015 LuxEsto.