Microbes are an inescapable part of our food system – just ask Megan Biango-Daniels who has moved from apple pathogens to beneficial food microbes. Recently featured in Edible Boston’s The Future of Food: Three Women at the Forefront of Science and Technology her current research focuses on the microbial ecology of sourdough.
Biango-Daniels’ thesis research was conducted in the program of Kathie Hodge (SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology). As part of diverse projects, she investigated the role of “extremophilic” fungi in food contamination, finding spoilage-species of Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Cladosporium in sea salt as well as identifying the heat-resistant spoilage mold, Paecilomyces niveus, in apples.
Biango-Daniels begun post-doctoral research in 2018 in the lab of Benjamin Wolfe, a program at Tufts University focused on the use of fermented foods and other synthetic microbial communities to study the ecology and evolution of microbiomes. When asked to reflect on her Cornell education, Biango-Daniels commented, “Both techniques and the collaboration mindset that I gained while I was at Cornell are serving me well at Tufts. I spend a lot of time thinking about the microbial interactions in fermented foods like sourdough bread these days and the molds that shape natural cheese rinds. On its surface, my work looks different than my dissertation work. However, there’s a lot of overlap because I’m still researching microbe interactions and considering dispersal and establishment of these communities.” She added that she is working to establish a coffee break tradition akin to that in the SIPS PPPMB Section!
During her time at Cornell, Biango-Daniels devoted significant energy to science communication, giving presentations at Science Cabaret and the Ithaca Apple Festival, doing outreach workshops with ‘Expanding your Horizons’, and maintaining an active presence on social media. In connection with her continued work in this area, she commented, “I think one of the really fun aspects of fermentation is that it’s so much fun to do at home. It has made communicating science so fun. I’m finding that as outreach tools go bread and cheese are well received by people, who are excited about the microbiomes in their kitchens.”
Read more: The Future of Food: Three Women at the Forefront of Science and Technology (Edible Boston) and follow on Twitter @MNDaniels24