News Release from the Australian Wine Research Institute, Adelaide, 8 October 2008:
In a world first, scientists at The Australian Wine Research Institute have cracked the genetic code of a wine yeast.
The breakthrough paves the way for development of improved wine yeast – a key ingredient in winemaking.
“Availability of improved wine yeast will put winemakers in a stronger position to control fermentation and develop wines with the right quality, character and flavour” said Dr Anthony Borneman, a Senior Research Scientist at the AWRI.
“We’ve laid important groundwork for further sequencing and comparative analysis of other wine yeast strains.”
“We have made a significant breakthrough in understanding wine yeast,” said Dr Paul Chambers, Research Manager of AWRI’s Biosciences team. "We will soon know where to look to find out why some wine yeasts can be troublesome and we will be better placed to improve and tailor them for production of particular wines for target markets.”
Using the latest technologies available through the Australian Genome Research Facility, the AWRI’s sequencing project took about six months to complete. This is quite amazing in light of the fact that just over ten years ago, the first yeast strain to be sequenced took 70 laboratories, 10 years and cost millions of dollars.
“Today, we are unlocking the potential of yeast for winemakers, using genes to our advantage, without resorting to genetic engineering,” said AWRI Managing Director, Professor Sakkie Pretorius.
“By understanding the biology of yeast and the chemistry of wine we can use science to give the Australian wine sector an opportunity to innovate and maximise its market potential.”
NEWS RELEASE ENDS
PHILIP WHITE: I asked Prof Pretorius how he could explain the difference between “sequencing a genome” and “genetic engineering”. Here’s his response:
SAKKI PRETORIUS: “Sequencing a genome is different to genetic engineering because it does not require the alteration of DNA in a living organism. In genome sequencing we simply extract genetic material (DNA) from an organism and analyse it – we do not return any of this DNA back into an organism, so nothing is engineered (ie nothing is reconstructed). It is a bit like taking a biopsy from someone for medical analysis; tissue (e.g. blood) is removed and analysed in the laboratory, and never returned to the body it was removed from (or any other body, for that matter). Nothing is engineered or altered in the process.”
PW: When will winemakers be able to purchase proven yeasts which have resulted from your discoveries?
SP: “Wine yeast strains that make less hydrogen sulfide (a chemical compound that sometimes forms during yeast fermentation and makes wine smell cabbage-like) have been commercialised. Non-genetic engineering strategies have been used during the past year to develop novel yeast strains with the ability to ferment robustly while producing minimal or undetectable quantities of hydrogen sulfide. Two of these strains have been commercialised under the names Maurivin Distinction® and Maurivin Platinum®.
“Research into the benefits of co-inoculation strategies has contributed to development of commercialised blended yeast products: Anchor Alchemy I® and Anchor Alchemy II®. Fermentation trails with mixtures of specially-selected yeast strains confirmed that wines resulting from co-inoculation are different, in chemical composition and sensorial attributes, from wines generated using single yeast strains or wines produced by post-fermentation blending. Preliminary consumer trials demonstrated a preference for Sauvignon Blanc that was made using co-inoculation, compared to the single strains by themselves.”
Short cv of Professor Sakkie Pretorius
Sakkie Pretorius graduated from the University of the Orange Free State (South Africa) and obtained his PhD in Molecular Microbiology under the supervision of Prof Julius Marmur from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York in 1986. Previously, he was the founding Director of the Institute for Wine Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. Currently, he is the Managing Director of The Australian Wine Research Institute in Adelaide. He is also an Affiliate Professor at the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Adelaide.
The main focus of Sakkie's research has been on Wine Microbiology and Biotechnology. He has published more than 200 research papers and book chapters, and delivered more than 500 lectures at conferences and research seminars. His viewpoint is that wine research should be directed toward increasing fundamental understanding in a context responsive to the applied needs of producers and consumers at levels of both problem selection and experimental design. Therefore, he believes that wine research inspired by both the quest for understanding the fundamentals and by considerations of future use, promises to be the most powerful dynamo of technological progress that would support the cost-effective production of wine with minimised resource inputs, improved product quality, increased health benefits and low environmental impact.
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