Origins of lager beer traced back to 15th century Bavaria

Berlin: Using next-generation sequencing techniques, scientists have traced the origins of the yeast used in making the most popular lager beer all the way back to 15th Century Bavaria in Germany.

The beer world is divided into ales and lagers. The original and highly versatile yeast, Saccharromyces cerevisiae, has been used for millennium to make ales, wine and bread.

Origins of lager beer traced back to 15th century BavariaRepresentational picture

But the second great beer innovation was the origins of lager beer during the 15th century, when Bavarians first noticed that beer stored in the caves during the winter continued to ferment, researchers said.

The result was a lighter and smoother beer that, after sharing it with their neighbouring Bohemians, went on to dominate 19th and 20th century beers tastes, especially in America.

Lager yeasts are hybrid strains, made of two different yeast species, S cerevisiae and S eubayanus, which was discovered in 2011.
Lagers now represent a whopping 94 per cent of the world beer market. But the origins of different hybrid lineages has been a bone of contention for lager beer makers.

Taking advantage of a newly described wild yeast species from Patagonia, Saccharomyces eubayanus, the researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison were able to complete and assemble a high-quality genome of S eubayanus using next-generation sequencing.

They compared it to domesticated hybrids that are used to brew lager style beers, allowing for the first time the ability to study the complete genomes of both parental yeast species contributing to lager beer. They show two independent origin events for S cerevisiae and S eubanyus hybrids that brew lager beers.

The findings show that domestication for beer making has placed yeast on similar evolutionary trajectories multiple times. The results suggest that the Saaz and Frohberg lineages (named for their area of origin) were created by at least two distinct hybridisation events between nearly identical strains of S eubayanus with relatively more diverse ale strains of S cerevisiae.

"Lager yeasts did not just originate once. This unlikely marriage between two species, genetically as different from one another as humans and birds, happened at least twice," said corresponding author Chris Todd Hittinger of the University of isconsin-Madison.

"Although these hybrids were different from the start, they also changed in some predictable ways during their domestication," said Hittinger. The blueprint of the powerhouses of the yeast cell, called mitochondrial genome sequences, proved that S eubayanus served as the main donor of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) for lager yeasts of Frohberg lineage.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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