This is good news for beer lovers as beer may now come in many flavors, thanks to a new method developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This new method creates interspecies yeast hybrids in the laboratory for beer makers to develop new flavors for the most loved alcoholic beverage in the world.

Around 500 years ago, the accidental discovery of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the famous yeast opened doors to the creation of the now famous wine, bread, ale and even lager beer. 

In the new study published in the journal Fungal Genetics and Biology, scientists have developed a new way for creating interspecies yeast hybrids in the laboratory. Since beer makers depend much on yeasts for their products, having more strains to experiment on and work with may help them create new flavors.

"We can achieve hybrids at rates of one in a thousand cells. It is much more efficient than nature," study author William Alexander, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said.

The researchers are experimenting on genetically-modified yeast in order to create new beer flavors that have never been made in the past. The new method involves using plasmids, which are DNA circles that can be made into an organism to transfer a genetic quality.

Plasmids are used to manipulate genes in cells and this can help in yeast hybridization. In this process, plasmids release a naturally-occurring yeast protein that aids in two distinct species to mate and combine.

The study highlights the importance of yeast in fermentation. Aside from beer, yeast is also used in a wide array of products including cheese, whiskey, apple cider and soy sauce. Also, it is used in the production of biofuels and some drugs like insulin.

"The advantages of the technique are speed, efficiency, and precision," senior author Chris Todd Hittinger, a professor of genetics at UW-Madison explained. He added that within just a week, hybrids can be made from two species to 'create forms never seen before'.

"This method provides an efficient means for producing novel synthetic hybrids for beverage and biofuel production, as well as for constructing tetraploids to be used for basic research in evolutionary genetics and genome stability," the authors concluded in the study.

The United States is dubbed as the leading beer exporter while China remains the leading beer consumer in the world. Cold-brewed lager is now the leading alcoholic beverage in terms of consumption with annual sales up to $250 million. 

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski | Flickr

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