UW-Madison research discovery could impact lager production

Glasses of Beer / Photo: Pixabay / (MGN)
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- A research team at UW-Madison said they made a groundbreaking discovery about industrial lager production that could impact an industry worth billions of dollars.

According to a news release, UW-Madison Professor of Genetics Chris Todd Hittinger, his graduate student EmilyClare Baker and others revealed the genetic makeup of lager's cold tolerance and fermentation process.

The release said the team published two papers, and is the first to "identify the genetic underpinnings of how two of the most defining features of lager production -- cold tolerance and complete fermentation -- evolved."

Behind the cold, crisp and dry lager beer is a yeast that is adapted to the cold. The yeast is a hybrid -- a combination of "the domesticated baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and a recently discovered wild species, Saccharomyces eubayanus." The two species combined hundreds of years ago to make the cold-fermenting strain that produces lager beer.

In its papers, the research team showed "how modern lager yeast adopted the cold-loving and sugar-hungry traits essential to their success."

One paper is scheduled to be published Feb. 1 in "Science Advances". That paper demonstrates how the cold-loving Saccharomyces eubayanus passed on its traits to the new hybrid. Because of this, all industrial lager strains ferment at cold temperatures.

The second paper, to be published in the journal "PLOS Genetics", revealed "a potential path to more aggressive fermentation of all available sugars, a key trait in producing dry, crisp beer."

The news release said the team investigated why most strains of Saccharomyces eubayanus cannot ferment maltotriose, the second-most common sugar in wort -- the barley malt extract that ferments into beer. The team created a brand new protein capable of transporting maltotriose into the cell, revealing the potential new production method.

Hittinger and Baker applied for patents based on their work, which "could provide new opportunities for altering both the temperature range and sugar metabolizing ability of industrial lager strains."

Click here to read more about the research.