Science! The Genetics of Yeast

Beer science!

Yeast! It’s the microorganism that turns sugary malt water into life-affirming booze. As a guide on a recent brewery tour explained, “Think of yeast as Pac-Man and the dots he eats as sugar from malt. The points you get from those dots? That’s alcohol.” Sums it up nicely, I think. And now scientists from White Labs Inc. and a Belgian genetics lab (always the Belgians) are gazing deeply into the genetics of yeast. From the New York Times:

The laboratories have sequenced the DNA of more than 240 strains of brewing yeasts from around the world. Alongside samples from breweries like Sierra Nevada, Duvel Moortgat and Stone, “we’ve thrown in a few wine, bakers, bio-ethanol and sake yeasts to compare,” said Kevin Verstrepen, director of the lab in Belgium.

By getting a line-by-line reading of the 12 million molecules that make up the DNA of each yeast, Dr. Verstrepen said, the researchers will be able not only to tell how closely related two yeasts are (is Sam Adams’s closer to Stone’s, or Sierra Nevada’s?) but to answer other important questions: which breweries started with the same strains of yeasts, how these organisms evolved over time and, of course, how all of it translates to taste.

I’ll skip my usual dire warnings about tampering in God’s domain because hey, if this ends up creating new and better beers, I’m all for it. Nice work, science. Read the whole thing here.