Beer at the Molecular Level
Brewers will be able to get a much closer look at their yeast with new research that has mapped the full genome of more than 240 brewing yeasts.
The research project is a collaboration in part among White Labs, a yeast laboratory and distributor in San Diego; a VIB genetics laboratory at KU (Catholic University) Leuven in Belgium; and Illumina, a biotechnology company also headquartered in San Diego.
“Throughout this whole collaboration, there’s been a passion for craft beer and science and that’s what been fueling this whole project,” said Troels Prahl, head of research and development at White Labs. “It’s not a conventional research project .”
While the research is still several months away from being published, the next challenge will be deciphering the data for brewers. But it does have big practical implications, Prahl said. Overlapping DNA sequencing data with flavor characteristics would allow brewers to target a specific trait—banana aroma, for example—and then search for that trait in other yeast strains.
The research also opens the door for the possibility of genetically modifying yeast strains, although Prahl emphasized that it was not a main objective.
“That is not the primary goal of the research because the natural diversity [of brewing yeast] is so vast that we don’t see the desire to engineer our way out of it, but we’re not closing our eyes to it, that we or others could potentially design a strain that is not already existing in nature,” said Prahl.