A new video looks at the National Collection of Yeast Cultures, a BBSRC-funded National Capability at the Institute of Food Research.
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.