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Sourdough-ome

Sourdough starter, the basis of many a loaf of bread, is made up of water, flour, yeast, and bacteria, and researchers are delving into samples that people from around the world have sent in to see how various starters differ and what this could mean for other microbiomes, NPR reports.

"Just like how people can take a mouse and learn human biology, we're taking fermented foods and trying to learn about microbiomes," Tuft University's Benjamin Wolfe says. Fermented foods typically contain only a dozen species, making them easier to study, NPR adds.

So far, Wolfe and his colleagues have found that the microbes present in the samples they've received from 571 bakers in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand depend more on the flour used than, for instance, geography. Starters bought from the King Arthur flour company contain similar microbes, NPR says, adding that starters from the East and West Coast of the US are fairly similar.

The sourdough starter team plans to begin sequencing the samples they've amassed in a few months, NPR adds. "The hope is that identifying individual microbes in the starters will help answer the hows and whys behind the spectrum of aromas and flavors in sourdough," it says. "What they learn may even help bakers create new kinds of even more delicious bread."