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Researchers Uncover Secret To Lager Yeast's Effectiveness

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A team of researchers has made an interesting discovery about lager yeast production that could potentially impact a billion-dollar industry.

Chris Todd Hittinger, a professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his team claimed that they have determined how modern lager yeast became cold-loving and sugar-hungry, traits that are essential to its global success.

Their findings were published as a pair of papers in Science Advances and PLOS Genetics.

New Way Of Brewing

The yeast, which is behind the world's most popular alcoholic beverage, is a hybrid of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a baker's yeast, and Saccharomyces eubayanus, a wild species of yeast that has been discovered only recently. Hundreds of years ago, the two combined to create a taste that now dominates the beer industry around the world.

Popular beer brands such as Heineken, Sapporo, Budweiser, and others are all lagers. They are often described as cold, clean-tasting, dry, and crisp. Worldwide, the lager beer industry is worth about half a trillion dollars.

In the first paper, to be published on Feb. 1, the team demonstrated how the S. eubayanus provided its mitochondria — the powerhouse of the cell — to make the modern lager yeast resistant to the cold. Meanwhile, in the second paper that can be viewed via the pre-publication site bioRxiv, the team investigated how the S. eubayanus ferment the sugar in the wort, the barley malt extract that becomes beer.

The researchers said that they were able to evolve a new protein that is capable of transporting the maltotriose, the second most common sugar in wort that many strains of S. eubayanus cannot ferment, into the cell. This opens the path to a more aggressive fermentation of all available sugars in the wort, potentially producing dry, crisp beer.

Revolutionizing Lager Beers

"For the first time, we can remake custom lager strains that have the S. cerevisiae mitochondrial genome. And when you do that you get shifted temperature preferences," said Hittinger in a press release. "This is a new category of brewing strains that right now is not in anyone's arsenal. And we think it very well could have novel properties in beer production."

Because lager yeast loves the cold, production takes longer and much more expensive than brewing ale. The researchers believe that shifting lager production to a slightly lower temperature with a modified yeast will be faster and more cost-effective than the traditional process.

Hittinger and his team have already applied for a patent based on their findings.

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