Thirsty for some science? Geneticists at Johns Hopkins University have managed to genetically engineer an entire organism from scratch. More specifically, they’ve successfully created artificial yeast, designing and writing a code consisting of around 11 million letters of DNA, all synthesized and substituted for a yeast’s natural DNA. But why yeast? What was it that made them choose this organism over others?
Apparently, it’s because yeast’s got a natural tendency to uptake and appropriate segments of DNA, something which makes it an ideal candidate for synthesizing life. It’s a slow process, to be sure, but they’re making steady progress. Already, they’ve completed three of the sixteen chromosomes in yeast; according to lead geneticist Jef Boeke, “now it’s just a matter of money and time.”
Money and time well spent, for anyone with an interest in brewing. In terms of beer creation and production, synthetic yeast could change everything. According to former brewer and Sierra Nevada research scientist Christ Baugh, the ability to synthesize yeast could be “absolutely groundbreaking.” “I’m personally more excited about these yeasts than any other scientific advancement I see coming into the brewing industry.”
“We’ve actually got a yeast that looks like a yeast, smells like a yeast, and makes alcohol like a yeast”
So what does this exciting development really mean for brewmasters and craft beer?
“It depends on what style of beer you’re brewing,” continued Baugh, “but I would say the yeast is responsible for at least half that flavor, though less so in beers like IPAs where the yeast’s flavor can be overpowered by hops. Right now, the issue brewers face is that a lot of yeasts will produce these amazing flavors, but they may not ferment right. But if you could tailor-make your yeasts, with the understanding of what genes code for the different flavor molecules, well, that opens the doors to the mass production of beer with totally untasted characteristics.”
“I wonder if I could pay to have a true personally crafted beer that is in perfect harmony with my tastebuds. That would be the Umami of the craft beer world…how amazing would that be.” Zac Harris
Another innovator with beer and technology is Zac Harris, co-founder and chief monk at Monks Toolbox. Harris, a self-proclaimed beer geek, helped form Monks Toolbox specifically to bring high-tech tools to the craft brewing industry. He also is the operations director at Geekdom, a 12,400-square-foot collaborative workspace and high-tech incubator in San Antonio, Tx. That combination of a love of beer, a knowledge of facility development and a high-tech outlook put Harris at the heart of a booming craft brewing industry.
I asked Zac Harris how he felt about the future of beer and technology:
The team here at Monks Toolbox is always on the lookout for more tools to give to the craft brewers of the world. This is a great example of how technology innovation and artistic passion can collide for the benefit of all the craft beer drinkers of the world. So hell yea bring it on!
I wonder if I could pay to have a true personally crafted beer that is in perfect harmony with my tastebuds. That would be the Umami of the craft beer world…how amazing would that be. Sign me up!
Technology is advancing and no doubt it has reached the beer industry. We are excited about the possibilities this new scientific development could hold for the future of beer. However, it is unlikely that we’ll be sipping on synthetic yeast beer any time soon. Researchers have not yet synthesized the entire genome but they claim it’s only a matter of time that scientists will be in their labs clinking beer glasses in celebratory cheer.
“I’m personally more excited about these yeasts than any other scientific advancement I see coming into the brewing industry.” – Baugh