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Beer Genomics

beer yeastTwo laboratories "have sequenced the DNA of more than 240 strains of brewing yeasts from around the world," reports William Herkewitz in The New York Times (5/27/14). "With this information, we’ll be able to select different properties in yeasts and breed them together to generate new ones," says Kevin Verstrepen, director of a Belgian genetics laboratory. "In a few years we might be drinking beers that are far different and more interesting than those that currently exist."

"Yeasts can make over 500 flavor and aroma compounds," says Troels Prahl, who is both a brewer and a microbiologist at White Labs, a yeast distributor. This is accomplished by "getting a line-by-line reading of the 12 million molecules that make up the DNA of each yeast." In so doing, "researchers will be able not only to tell how closely related two yeasts are … 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 into taste."

The result is that the very same brew can vary dramatically in taste, color and clarity simply by altering "the yeasts used to ferment them." This does not involve genetic modification — gene-splicing "to create new genes artificially." It is also surprisingly inexpensive: "Today, researchers can sequence a single yeast … in a matter of days, for only a few thousand dollars." "Where this is going to take off is in the craft brewing scene," says Chris E. Baugh of Sierra Nevada, because "there is a big push for something new and interesting all the time."