Can we genetically modify beer to protect biodiversity?

New research finds that breeding yeast for the best-tasting beers could save energy and enhance biodiversity

Big Zero Report 2023

The main problem breweries have is getting the right characteristics in the yeast they use to make their beer – that’s what gives it a unique taste.

This can lead to a long-winded and laborious process, involving different methods to achieve the desired traits and this has been the main cause of frustration for brewers since the 1800s.

New research from scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Leicester has found a new way of producing fertile, hybrid yeast strains that can achieve the desired taste of a beer without the long process.

The research states that naturally, hybrid yeasts are infertile and therefore their specific characteristics cannot be passed on – but the new development might fix that problem.

Not only would being able to breed the yeasts save the time, energy and environmental impacts of having to repeat the process to get the beer brewers want, the researchers also believe it could be used in biotechnology to sustainably produce pharmaceuticals or fuels.

The scientists claim that the production would also enhance natural biodiversity, as yeasts with more desirable traits would now be able to breed and flourish in the natural world.

Lead author of the research, Professor Daniela Delneri, explains: “This research tackles the fundamental issue of hybrid sterility and multigenerational breeding.

“This technology has the ability to revolutionise the current practices for strain selection by allowing, via breeding, the rapid creation of efficient tailored yeasts carrying specific, novel and important traits.

“As well as opening opportunities in food and drink production, this approach could be used to develop novel yeast ‘cell factories’ that could be used in the field of industrial biotechnology to sustainably bio-manufacture pharmaceuticals, chemicals and fuels.”

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