Often, discussion of biotechnology has a “big picture” focus – its utility in helping feed a growing population, the fact that it’s the fastest adopted crop technology in history, and so forth. However, there’s another biotech application that gets less attention, and it’s especially notable during the holiday season: its ability to improve beer!
If you visit the Wikipedia page titled “History of biotechnology”, you might be surprised that the first image you’ll see is brewers hard at work making tasty beverages. As the entry explains, the origins of biotechnology came from zymotechnology, a field closely tied to improving fermentation techniques that had its “heyday” around WWI.
Flash forward to today, and the relationship between biotech and beer is alive and well! A great recent example is a Dec. 18th article from the Citizen-Times, “Clemson grads launch yeast biotech firm to serve breweries”.
The article features the story behind a small biotech start-up that began with a grad student teaching a class on the science of beer-making. A project he and his students undertook evolved into a business that now supplies specialty yeasts to craft breweries.
The company, SouthYeast, “specializes in “bioprospecting” for unique microorganisms that can be used in the fermentation of foods and drinks.” Per the founder, the process is a bit like prospecting for gold because they “are looking for something of value – in this case, regional yeasts that can add distinctive flavors to beers and ales.”
So, if you’re enjoying a craft brew on New Year’s Eve and wonder how it got its deliciously unique flavor, it may just be thanks to the help of biotechnology, and an innovative company smart enough to utilize it!