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article imageGood beers need new yeasts

By Tim Sandle     Apr 14, 2014 in Science
Beer is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage on the planet. Good beer requires good quality yeasts and researchers are continuing to hunt for new strains.
As part of a target of seeking different types of brewing yeast, scientists are beginning to explore in the margins of yeast ecology in order to identify new strains in new environments.
Alcoholic beverages are defined as beverages that contain ethanol. This ethanol is almost always produced by fermentation — the metabolism of carbohydrates by certain species of yeasts under anaerobic or low-oxygen conditions. Beverages such as mead, wine, beer, or distilled spirits all use yeast at some stage of their production.
A team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Genetics Chris Hittinger have confirmed that Saccharomyces eubayanus, the wandering parent of hybrid lager yeast discovered in 2011, is a native of Patagonia. This came from an analysis of the yeast's genetic sequence. This means that the cold-loving microbe, some 500 years ago, found its way to the caves and monastery cellars of Bavaria where lager beer was first concocted.
Until then, scientists had known lager beers were made from a hybrid yeast, with half of its genes coming from a common ale yeast and the other half coming from an unknown species. S. eubayanus could have been carried across the Atlantic on the feet of fruit flies hovering around vats of beers or fruit juice, and its ability to tolerate cold would have made it well suited to brew lagers.
Further to this, the research team are using the tools of molecular biology to track down traits from yeasts around the world that could aid industrial fermentation technologies. Their examinations are based on finding characteristics that are similar to the original Patagonia strain. By exploring yeasts' native habitat and looking to see where else in the world they have turned up, scientists may unlock secrets of yeast genetics and their brewing abilities. Another application of economic potential is with biofuels.
The outcome of the studies so far have been published in the journal Molecular Ecology. The paper is titled “Population structure and reticulate evolution of Saccharomyces eubayanus and its lager-brewing hybrids.”
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