Mashable had an interesting piece about Genetically Engineered Yeast being done by at least two companines, Amyris and Evolva, and based in part on a New York Times article, What’s That Smell? Exotic Scents Made From Re-engineered Yeast. In the Times article Amyris co-founder Jay Keasling explained “that the process is ‘just like brewing beer, but rather than spit out alcohol, the yeast spits out these products.'” The relatively new discipline, dubbed synthetic biology, is only about a decade old. There are apparently issues about whether it would be considered natural. SOme say no, because the synthetic version “contains scores of components besides” what it’s being used as, while John B. Hallagan, from the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association believes “it conceivably could be called a natural ingredient since it is made in a living organism.”
According to the UK Telegraph, a worldwide effort is underway to create Synthetic Yeast, which scientists believe will allow brewers to “make beer cheaper and stronger.”
From the article:
Researchers, who have been awarded £1 million of government funding for the project, will first attempt to recreate a slimmed down version of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast used in the brewing industry to ferment beer.
It will be the first time a genome has been built from scratch for a eukaryotic organism, the branch of the evolutionary tree that includes plants and animals.
The scientists then aim to redesign parts of the yeast genome so that it can perform functions that are not possible naturally.
Professor Paul Freemont, from the centre for synthetic biology and innovation at Imperial College London who is helping to lead the British part of the project, said they could help make yeast more efficient so they required less energy and could tolerate more alcohol before dying, allowing beer to be made stronger.
He said: “The brewing industry is very interested in this project for any new opportunities it may present as they use yeast to manufacture beer.
“One of the aims of the project is to develop this yeast strain as a vehicle that you can put in new chemical pathways and directly manipulate it in a way that is not possible at the moment.
“Clearly there are strains of yeast that are highly resistant to alcohol, but they all die off as the alcohol gets higher, so making more alcohol resistant strains will be very useful for that industry in terms of cost value.
“Strains that are metabolically more optimal and don’t require as much energy will also be useful.”
The synthetic yeast project, also known as Sc2.0, will draw together expertise from around the world.
I can’t quite decide yet whether I think this is a good idea, offering brewers many more choices and opportunities to create unique beers or a Frankenstein moment of science going too far in manipulating an essentially natural process. I guess time will tell.
Today’s infographic is almost a humorous one, although it does illustrate a brewing principal, that of how genrations of yeast can be propagated for homebrewing. It was created by the Half Moon Brewer. Whatever you do, avoid the zombie yeast. I actually have one of those yeast stuffed animals in my office. I probably won’t be able to look at it the same way again.
In case you missed it, yesterday’s New York Times had an article on Brettanomyces entitled Brettanomyces, a Funky Yeast, Makes Flavorful Beers that’s worth a read.