Synthetic Yeast

yeast-cell
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.

beer-yeast

Yeast Evolution Due To Reuse

yeast-buddy
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.

YeastEvoChart
Click here to see the chart full size.

Beer From Beard Yeast, Yes; From Vaginas, No

women
You most likely remember that Rogue harvested some yeast from the beard of their longtime brewmaster, John Maier, and White Labs analyzed it and propagated a brewing yeast that Rogue in turn used to brew a beer with. Not everyone responded favorably to the news, but in terms of attention and publicity, it’s been a huge hit, with almost every news agency, website and blog writing about it. I made it the subject of part of one of my newspaper columns back in July. A Google search of “rogue beard beer” turns up over 1.4 million hits.

But just when you think things can’t get any weirder, my wife — who’s been working in Shanghai this week — just sent me an article from a feminist blog she reads regularly, Jezebel. Inspired by John Maier’s beard beer exploits, they wrote an article about one more place known for its occasional yeast production that we can write off as a place to harvest for brewing. The article, entitled Just So You Know, You Can’t Make Beer With Your Vagina, answers the question I’m not sure anyone was asking. But now that I know there is an answer, I can’t look away. It’s like that car crash on the side of the road. I know I shouldn’t look, but I just can’t help myself.

Beginning with the premise that “[y]east is everywhere, even (as we ladies well know) buried deep inside our vaginas, waiting to go bad and ruin our week at any moment,” they wonder if anyone could “turn a yeast infection into a full-bodied IPA.” At this point, I’ll let author
Madeleine Davies share the results.

We did some research and, in a word, no. The yeast used in beer is a completely different strain of yeast than the one that causes yeast infections. And there goes your artisanal brewery idea!

The yeast used in beer is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae and works by converting carbohydrates to carbon dioxide and alcohols. This is also the yeast used in bread, which is why baking yeast can be used to brew beer, though it generally makes the end product doughy in flavor and texture. Yeast infections are caused by Candida albicans, a fungus that grows as both yeast and filamentous cells and can cause oral and genital infections in humans. Using this to brew would be entirely ineffective, not to mention, guh-ross.

So there you have it. No vagina beer. I, for one, am relieved. It was one thing to have Sam Calagione and his team spitting in his Peruvian-style chicha beer, and Maier’s beard never bothered me too much, because White Labs removed any lingering ick factor by growing the yeast in their San Diego lab. But in the on-going quest to push the envelope, generate publicity and maybe even make something worth drinking, this may be crossing a line. What do you think?

vergina
Close, but no vagina.