We can all rest easy; the future of the beer industry is in good hands. Many of the beers you drink are given their distinctive flavors thanks to the yeast used in fermentation. However up until recently it was impossible for beer brands to maintain perfectly consistent flavor because their yeast would gradually be altered over time. Even reproducing the yeast from the same colony would eventually lead to changes in its genetic makeup as random mutations occurred. Thanks to a team of geneticists from Johns Hopkins University brewers (and brew drinkers) may no longer need to fear the loss of their favorite flavors.
An article in Popular Mechanics explains that a team of scientists led by Jef Boeke are creating the first synthetic yeast chromosome. While it has been possible to make alterations and splice in specific genes to yeast’s genetic code this is the first time that scientists have completed the insertion of a full chromosome for this organism. Their eventual goal is to synthesize an entire genome for the yeast, introducing new segments in an eleven-part process. Given that yeast’s genetic code is made up of approximately 11 million base pairs, this is no small undertaking. What makes this so exciting is the ability to alter and modify the code as they go. The researchers have cut out portions of the basic genetic code they believe to be unnecessary, allowing them to lessen the total number of nucleotides they need to insert. This sort of specificity will allow researchers to tailor organisms to their personal needs in the future.
In the case of beer not only does it mean that the flavor should remain true for years to come, but it also leads to exciting new opportunities for changing the flavor of traditional brews. Your next Hefeweizen might just have been genetically altered to give you that clove and banana smell you’ve come to know and love.
Posted by: Kirk MacKinnon (8)