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Old 01-16-2012, 02:50 PM   #1
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Default Wild yeast and the evolution of yeast

Recently I've been growing curious about the history of yeast. Everything I've read about the history of beer usually focuses on the societal aspect of it, but I'd like to know how regional variations of yeast developed. How did this happen in the centuries before people even understood what yeast was or what role it played in beer production?

So a few things I'm wondering about. 'Wild yeast' is generally used as synonymous with Brett, something that'll end up funky, but I assume that there has to be more to it than that — a random 'wild yeast' could turn out to be a plain ol', boring Sacc strain, right? I mean, again, at one point in history all yeast was wild; it all had to come from somewhere. Eventually, these wild Sacc yeast must have won out and become the dominate, 'traditional' strains.

Regional yeast strains, I'm guessing, were probably selected by inoculating new wort with fermented beer, ensuring that the same strain was allowed to propagate, evolve, and dominate. Or something like that. But I assume Brett and bugs would have very often been a component as well, unless Star-San has been around longer than I realize. Can one assume that almost all ancient beer styles would have had some slight funky component unless they were consumed extremely fresh? This is something I never see mentioned or experimented with when breweries (Dogfish Head, for instance) try to accurately recreate an ancient style. The yeast never seems to play much into it, which seems odd.

Anyway, I'm just curious if anyone knows more about yeast's wild history than I do, and would like to share thoughts or point me toward some reading material. I think spontaneous fermentation is one of the coolest things ever, and it's even more amazing to realize that all beer had to start out this way.

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Old 01-16-2012, 03:13 PM   #2
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Probably there was all sorts of things out there. There used to be much higher gravity brews so the ABV would keep critters at bay. Obviously hops do a number on some of the critters. But, cask age some beer and you are going to see some funk. I'm willing to bet people from years gone by were used to sour tasting beers.

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Old 01-17-2012, 09:40 AM   #3
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I have a molecular biology background, and I'd love to take some time off (or maybe work nights and weekends) and whole-genome sequence as many of the available ale yeast strains as feasible and begin doing some molecular phylogeny to start to get at these types of basic questions. However, it's really difficult to obtain funding for this kind of work. It doesn't result in any potential medical advance. Commercial entities aren't really excited to learn that their yeast strain has been appropriated by their competitors. Nor do they want to know what handful of mutations can be done to mimic their yeast. Cutting edge sequencing labs usually aren't interested in historical questions like these. Historians might not want to have their narratives destroyed as has happened with some of the theories of human migration as a result of human sequencing.

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Old 01-17-2012, 02:04 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glossolalia View Post
I have a molecular biology background, and I'd love to take some time off (or maybe work nights and weekends) and whole-genome sequence as many of the available ale yeast strains as feasible and begin doing some molecular phylogeny to start to get at these types of basic questions. However, it's really difficult to obtain funding for this kind of work. It doesn't result in any potential medical advance. Commercial entities aren't really excited to learn that their yeast strain has been appropriated by their competitors. Nor do they want to know what handful of mutations can be done to mimic their yeast. Cutting edge sequencing labs usually aren't interested in historical questions like these. Historians might not want to have their narratives destroyed as has happened with some of the theories of human migration as a result of human sequencing.
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Old 01-20-2012, 12:43 PM   #5
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Glossolalia- it seems that an awful lot of science owes it's presence to the study of yeast (not like louis pastuer did anything for the advancement of knowledge...). I am with othellomcbane- when i find my real, super rich, fantasy family and ditch the ones i have, i would put up money to know more about the actual biologic evolution of yeast. This month's nat geographic has a pretty cool story on dogs- and i imagine many of the ideas about yeast evolution would be dispelled in the same manner. There has to be some type of application that knowledge could be exploited for...

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Old 01-20-2012, 12:50 PM   #6
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Glossolalia- I would love to see something like that!- it seems that an awful lot of scietific knowledge has come directly from the study of yeast. This month's nat geographic has a great article on dog breeding, and i imagine that many of the ideas of yeast evolution would have to be rethought in a similar manner, once the actual genetic data was analyzed. This would be a really great project- i am with othellomcbane- though my source of income will more likely come from the super rich future version of myself who invents time travel (i've been putting this project off, since it really doesn't matter when it gets done), and comes back with my past me's allowance. As long as you have no moral objections to the seed money coming from illicit winnings from the dog tracks, we could be well on our way!

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