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Thank fungi for cheese, wine and beer this holiday season

Time:2019-11-27 09:53wine - Red wine life health Click:

season Wine beer this Holiday

It’s hard to imagine a holiday table without bread, meat, vegetables, wine, beer or a board of French cheeses for those with more adventurous palates. Savoring these delicacies with family and friends is part of what makes the holidays so much fun.

These foods and drinks are courtesy of the domestication of several different animals, plants and microbes. Plant and animal domestication has been well studied, since it is thought to have been the most momentous change in recent human history.

Scientists know much less about the domestication of microbes, however, and as a result, society fails to appreciate their pivotal contributions to the foods and drinks that we enjoy all year long.

I am an evolutionary biologist studying fungi, a group of microbes whose domestication has given us many tasty products. I’ve long been fascinated by two questions: What are the genetic changes that led to their domestication? And how on Earth did our ancestors figure out how to domesticate them?

Curious too? Recent studies shed light on these questions, so grab some Camembert cheese and a beer, and keep on reading.

Thank fungi for cheese, wine and beer this holiday season

Thank the large variety of microbes, including fungi, for this assortment of international cheeses. Umomos/Shutterstock.com The hybrids in your lager

As far as domestication is concerned, it is hard to top the honing of brewer’s yeast. The cornerstone of the baking, brewing and wine-making industries, brewer’s yeast has the remarkable ability to turn the sugars of plant fruits and grains into alcohol. How did brewer’s yeast evolve this flexibility?

By discovering new yeast species and sequencing their genomes, scientists know that some yeasts used in brewing are hybrids; that is, they’re descendants of ancient mating unions of individuals from two different yeast species. Hybrids tend to resemble both parental species – think of wholpins (whale-dolphin) or ligers (lion-tiger).

Thank fungi for cheese, wine and beer this holiday season

Cells of the mighty brewer’s yeast, the cornerstone of the baking, brewing and wine making industries. wikipedia

For example, lager beer yeasts are hybrids of two closely related species: the brewer’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces eubayanus. Saccharomyces cerevisiae produces tasty beers, such as the British ales, but grows better at warmer temperatures. In contrast, Saccharomyces eubayanus grows better in the cold but produces compounds that taint the beer’s flavor. Lager yeast hybrids combine the best of both - good flavors from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and growth at colder temperatures, thanks to Saccharomyces eubayanus. This makes these hybrids great for brewing beer in the cold winters of Europe, where lagers were invented.

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