Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

More than Bread and Beer: the National Collection of Yeast Cultures

Published: Thursday, November 28, 2013
Last Updated: Thursday, November 28, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Yeasts are one of the earliest, if not the earliest, biological tools used by people.

The earliest known written words in human history document recipes for making bread and beer, both of which are made using yeast, as well the price of bricks – it seems our fancy for food and drink while discussing the price of property has remained unchanged over the years.

Brewers' yeast, Saccharomyces cerivisae, features widely in products we consume daily in our billions across the world, but these ancient unicellular fungi are poised to become a defining organism of the modern era. Yeast can be used in biorefineries to make biofuels for transport as well as platform chemicals for a variety of medical and industrial processes. Moreover, yeast are a key model organism in the emerging field of synthetic biology, and engineered or even reconstructed artificial strains may be manufacturing the fuels, food and pharmaceuticals of the future.

"The stone age didn't end because we ran out of stone, and the oil age won't end because we run out of oil. We'll find better, more renewable and more environment friendly ways of making fuels, and yeast have a plethora of genes to do this," says Dr Ian Roberts, Curator of the National Collection of Yeast Cultures  (NCYC), based at the Institute of Food Research , which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, and is based on Norwich Research Park.

"What we're looking for is yeast as an enabling technology. The ultimate aim is that students of the future will program yeast genomes just as students today programme computer applications," says Roberts.

The NCYC looks to the future – its part of the Synthetic Yeast 2.0 programme for example – but it also serves the present needs of industry: identifying, DNA sequencing and preserving more than 4000 pure reference samples worth millions to brewing and biotechnology companies around the world. This level of knowledge and the skills base for industry make it a BBSRC-funded National Capability and not just a facility.

And the NCYC can even delve into the past by helping microbreweries to resurrect traditional ale recipes using old yeast strains stored for decades in liquid nitrogen. This meets the growing demand for 'nostalgia beers' and supporting Britain's multi-billion pound brewing industry as well as increasingly important areas of the rural economy.

Culture club

The yeast collection was first founded in 1948 when British brewers realised the value of their yeast cultures and put them in safe deposit to keep them secure. Roberts estimates there are a good 4-500 strains from beer brewers in the NCYCs present collection, including Saccharomyces carlsbergensis for example – the yeast from the original Carlsberg lager brewery.

The NCYC then evolved into a broader collection and moved to IFR in 1981, collecting food spoilage yeast able to evade the conventional food preservatives. In 1999 the collection became a part of The United Kingdom National Culture Collection (UKNCC) , which was established to co-ordinate the activities of Britain's national collections of microbial organisms – there are equivalents in the bacteria, algae and viral worlds.

All of these collections are vital to the UK's bioeconomy, and in 2012 the NCYC became a BBSRC-funded National Capability, consolidating support for it to continue its core activities and expand into new projects. "The National Capability enables us to launch various products and services on the back of the capability we have, so in addition to providing services such as identification and safe deposit we can do a host of other research-oriented activities," says Roberts.

These operations include identification and sequencing services using the advanced DNA sequencing techniques, which are available in-house as well as nearby at The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC). "If a company has found an interesting new yeast species or has a problem with a particular contaminant, even if we can't tell you what it is we can tell you what it's most similar to using DNA sequencing methodology."

The NCYC can also keep valuable strains in safe deposit (See 'Keeping, counting and transporting yeast').For instance, as yeast are used they naturally evolve as they go about their business turning sugars into alcohol for example, and mutations creep into the fungi's DNA. These mutations could affect the metabolic processes that provide distinct flavours for certain brews, so the NCYC is on-hand to store a master reference version of that strain. This way, companies can safely deposit different strains in case of genetic drift, theft or accident.

NCYC Collection Manager Chris Bond says the NCYC was on hand to send out an ampoule on the same day that a request was received from a flooded brewery . "We supplied yeast back to Marston's who were able to continue brewing on another site and eventually restock the original brewery."

Bond can do this because the main bulk of the collection is preserved in liquid nitrogen at -196°C, which effectively puts the yeast into a kind of stasis. They can stay for decades in that state and be revived in just days for distribution around the world. Samples are sent freeze-dried in sterile glass ampoules, but they can also supply live cultures and are sent to China, the US, Australia and most of Europe.

In addition to storage and other services, the NCYC also acts as an information hub. Advice is provided on the sugars metabolised by particular strains, as well as how to maintain a large collection of genetic resources and how to make them available to other research communities, from universities to major industrial brewers or biotech start-ups. "There are probably not that many countries that we don't supply to," says Roberts. "Yeasts are little packets of information and people need to know what applications are available in each genome, what sugars they ferment and so forth."

Chain reaction

The modern applications of yeast are in industrial biotechnology, and a key focus of the NCYC's activities is utilising yeast that can produce fuels and chemicals. To do this, they feed different strains into an advanced experimental biorefinery located on-site at IFR, metabolising the sugars in agri-food waste substrates such as wheat straw and waste biomass into liquid transport biofuels.

The researchers are keen to extend the range of substrates that yeast can use and make them more robust. This is because when wheat straw, for example, is broken up a lot of chemical inhibitors are released which slows the beneficial metabolic reactions. Roberts says that strains used in brewing cannot work in the more rigorous environment of highly variable biomass, so they're looking for different yeast strains, or using them in combination, that can overcome these inhibitors.

They are also looking for yeasts that can metabolise material such as seaweed, which would not require the biomass to be grown on farming land. "Seaweed is one possible source, it's renewable and available," Roberts explains. "Farms have been established for conversion to bioethanol, and a yeast that can do that more efficiently could have a significant economic impact."

Professor Keith Waldron, who is also based at IFR and leads the biorefinery research programme, says there is also an increasing focus on seeing what new chemicals yeast can yield from different substrates. "Our initial work focused on ethanol production, we're now working with the NCYC to explore the potential for the production of platform chemicals, making use of the biodiversity in the yeast collection."

Gene genie

Yeasts are also at the forefront of efforts to create not just engineered organisms, but entirely new classes of microorganisms. In 2009 Craig Venter, a geneticist and pioneer of the Human Genome Project, revealed what he described as the world's first synthetic organism : his team transferred the genome of a bacterium into a yeast, modified it by altering methyl groups (which affect how DNA is used) and then transplanted into another bacterium. Then in 2011, a different team made yeast with partially ' artificial chromosomes ' recreated using DNA sequencing. The introduced DNA contained a 'scrambling' element that could be switched on or off, and would lead to a greater number of mutant yeasts in order to search for ones better suited to making certain compounds and metabolites.

The Synthetic Yeast 2.0  programme, funded by BBSRC and EPSRC, now aims to build an entire yeast genome – the first time this has been attempted in a eukaryotic (non-bacterial) organism. "We're providing advice on managing and distributing synthetic yeast collections as part of its 'BBSRC National Capability' remit," says Roberts. "The NCYC team have also established an extensive network of industrial yeast users which they plan to build on to ensure that scientific advances associated with this topic are rapidly translated into economic impacts."

Synthetic Yeast 2.0 is a major programme featuring collaborators from the UK, USA, China and India at universities around the world. Each team is responsible for building one of 16 individual yeast chromosomes that comprise the 6000 genes of the complete genome.

Roberts says the NCYC is also closely linked with the 1002 Yeast Genomes project, co-lead by Dr Gianni Liti and colleagues at the Institute for Research on Cancer and Aging, Nice, which aims to sequence and assemble the entire genomes of 1002 S. cerivisae strains to link the physical attributes capabilities of yeast (phenotype) with their genetic sequences.

"On this project we have the additional responsibility of helping to source, identify and select novel isolates to feed into the 1002 project," says Roberts. "We try to source from as many natural populations as possible and select on the basis of trait variation and fine-scale phylogenetic diversity."

Pub life

Yeasts have an integral part to play in solving the problems of the present and the future, but that does not mean that traditional uses have been forgotten. Tastes have changed – people are buying less  of the continental lagers that were considered sophisticated in the 1980s. Instead, traditional ale sales in the UK have increased along with the establishment of small ' microbreweries ' that produce fewer, often premium, products.

As part of the movement, traditional ale enthusiasts have looked to the past to recreate old brews in what had been dubbed 'nostalgia brewing', and for that they need the yeast that were used at the time, which is where the NCYC can help.

"Regenerating those ales is of growing interest," says Roberts. "We don't have ancient beers but we do have the yeast that were used to generate the ancient beers, and often the recipes are still available in the brewing industry. So to revive a traditional ale if they have the recipe and we have the yeast they can put the two together and create a beer appropriate for the market."

And although ale-drinking conjures up images of rotund, red-faced fellows in country pubs with a dog and a shotgun at the ready, the modern reality is anything but – ales are the emerging drink of fashionistas from London to Lyme Regis. And the growth in ale drinking counters the trend in pub closures and an  overall drop in alcohol intake  per person in the UK. Taking into account that brewing in Britain is a multi-billion pound industry, this means the value of a national resource of brewing yeast alone is something to drink to.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,600+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Genome-Editing Position Statement
A group of leading UK research organisations has today issued an initial joint statement in support of the continued use of CRISPR-Cas9 and other genome-editing techniques in preclinical research.
Monday, September 07, 2015
Expanding the DNA Alphabet: 'Extra' DNA Base Found to be Stable in Mammals
A rare DNA base, previously thought to be a temporary modification, has been shown to be stable in mammalian DNA, suggesting that it plays a key role in cellular function.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Global Food Security (GFS) Develops New Funding Programme
New programme of research to tackle resilience of the food system.
Tuesday, June 02, 2015
£4M to Fund Important Food Crops from BBSRC and NERC
Research projects designed with industry partners to maximize impact.
Tuesday, June 02, 2015
Controlling Leaf Blotch Disease In Wheat
Scientists have found a genetic mechanism that could stop the spread of a "devastating" disease threatening wheat crops.
Thursday, February 05, 2015
Rising Temperatures Predicted to Lower Wheat Yields
An international consortium of researchers has used big data sets to predict the effects climate change on global wheat yields.
Friday, December 26, 2014
New Test For Detecting Horse Meat
New test compares differences in chemical compositions of the fat found in meats.
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
UK And India Collaborate On Future-Proof Crops
Drought-tolerant tomatoes, improved wheat and grass pea could provide crops for the future.
Friday, November 28, 2014
Drugs Used to Treat Lung Disease Work With the Body Clock
Scientists from The University of Manchester have discovered why medication to treat asthma and pneumonia can become ineffective.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Researchers Use ‘Big Data’ Approach to Map the Relationships Between Human and Animal Diseases
EID2 database used to prevent and tackle disease outbreaks around the globe.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
TGAC at the Forefront of Next Generation Sequencing Capability
The Genome Analysis Centre adds two Illumina HiSeq 2500 machines to its platform suite.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
UK Diet and Health Research Awarded £4M
Funding awarded to six projects investigating diet and health to enable the food and drink industry to meet the needs of UK consumers.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Better Understanding of Disease Resistance Genes in Crops
Effector-triggered defence concept describes how plants protect themselves against the apoplast.
Friday, June 06, 2014
Investment Provides Access to the World’s Most Advanced Crystallography Technology
The UK community will benefit thanks to a £5.64M investment from UK research funders.
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Public-private Research Partnership to Support Sustainable Agricultural Systems
The partnership will support projects that will help provide solutions to key challenges affecting the sustainability of the UK crop and livestock sectors.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Scientific News
Researchers Develop Classification Model for Cancers Caused by KRAS
Most frequently mutated cancer gene help oncologists choose more effective cancer therapies.
Fixing Holes in the Heart Without Invasive Surgery
UV-light enabled catheter is a medical device which represents a major shift in how cardiac defects are repaired.
Chromosomal Chaos
Penn study forms basis for future precision medicine approaches for Sezary syndrome
Enzyme Malfunction May be Why Binge Drinking Can Lead to Alcoholism
A new study in mice shows that restoring the synthesis of a key brain chemical tied to inhibiting addictive behavior may help prevent alcohol cravings following binge drinking.
Key to Natural Detoxifier’s Reactivity Discovered
Results have implications for health, drug design and chemical synthesis.
New Treatment for Obesity Developed
Researchers at the University of Liverpool, working with a global healthcare company, have helped develop a new treatment for obesity.
New Protein Found in Immune Cells
Immunobiologists from the University of Freiburg discover Kidins220/ARMS in B cells and demonstrate its functions.
Will Brain Palpation Soon Be Possible?
Researchers have developed non-invasive brain imaging technique which provides the same information as physical palpation.
Shaking Up the Foundations of Epigenetics
Researchers at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) and the University of Barcelona (UB) published a study that challenges some of the current beliefs about epigenetics.
Groundbreaking Computer Program Diagnoses Cancer in Two Days
Researchers have combined genetics with computer science and created a new diagnostic technology can with 85 per cent certainty identify the source of the disease and thus target treatment and, ultimately, improve the prognosis for the patient.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,600+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos