Scientists are Working on a Genetic Tree for Brewing Yeasts

They've already managed to clone a sheep; now they want to make better beer.

Photo: Sixpoint,

Photo: Sixpoint, NYC Tastes

Scientists are exploring the brave new world of molecular zymurgy—that’s the science of fermentation—by sequencing the DNA of different brewing yeasts.

A Belgian lab and Californian yeast distributor White Labs have so far mapped out 240 strains from all over the globe, reports the New York Times. Their mission is to discover how the molecules in a particular yeast affect the taste, texture, clarity and alcohol content of beer.

beerembed1 Scientists are Working on a Genetic Tree for Brewing Yeasts

Brewing yeasts at San Diego’s White Labs. (Photo: NYT)

Brewing yeast is what causes grain, water, and hops to ferment into beer; every brewery uses its own particular strain. By figuring out their individual properties, biologists might one day be able to crossbreed different brewing yeasts.

Chris E. Baugh, a microbiologist at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, explains one possible application: “Let’s say there’s a yeast that produces an amazing fruity aroma in beer, but can’t ferment past 3 percent alcohol,” he says in the Times piece. A scientist could theoretically breed it with a more alcohol-tolerant strain to get around that problem.

beerembed2 Scientists are Working on a Genetic Tree for Brewing Yeasts

A brewer samples beers at San Diego’s White Labs. (Photo: NYT)

Not only could biologists improve existing yeasts, but they could engineer custom strains for novel new beers. “Where this is really going to take off is in the craft brewing scene,” says Baugh. “There is a big push for something new and interesting all the time.”

With the exponential growth of microbrewing (according to the article there are around 2,500 craft breweries in America today compared to a dozen in 1980), it was only a matter of time before guys in white lab coats started tinkering with flavors.

We’re looking forward to tasting the results of their mad scientist experimentation—especially if they can engineer a beer that doesn’t give you a hangover.

[via New York Times]

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