Those funky cheese smells allow microbes to 'talk' to and feed each other
Oct 2020, phys.org
The more you learn, the more complicated it gets. So we know that the funky cheese smell of isovaleric acid is produced by bacteria, and we know that (some) cheese has fungus growing on it. But now we're told that they're all talking to each other, using other odor molecules.
The "cheese microbiome." Cheese doesn't house only one bacteria species, and it doesn't make only one smell, although isovaleric acid is a pretty good representative. There's a whole cheese microbiome, made of bacteria, yeast and fungi. Each one of these organisms secretes goop that digests their food, in this case that's the cheese. Their goop is kind of like making the whole world your stomach, where your digestive juices aid your digesting al fresco. As their external digestion approach does its thing, the target nutrients get broken down, and a by-product of that breakdown are odorous volatile organic compounds.
What these researchers have discovered is that fungi also release VOCs, but instead of being an important part of the smell of cheese, they communicate to bacteria. Some bacteria accelerate their growth in the presence of the right fungi-gas. Others get real shy and shut down. These fungus VOCs do real-time genetic modification on the bacteria, changing the way they metabolize nutrients. They also eat the VOCs themselves. They eat smells. We can't eat smells.
Anyway, the cheese microbiome now contains a VOC-ome sub-component, and this study hints that one day we may be looking very carefully at these VOC-omes, especially in the bio-factories of the future.
via Tufts University: Casey M. Cosetta et al, Fungal volatiles mediate cheese rind microbiome assembly, Environmental Microbiology (2020). DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.15223