Chris Todd Hittinger solves lager beer mystery

Genetics professor Chris Todd Hittinger and research intern Kayla Sylvester BS’14 display a few of their many test tubes and petri dishes of wild yeasts.

Did the two common yeast lineages currently used to brew lager beer – Frohberg and Saaz – arise separately or come from a common ancestor? Scientists have been searching for the answer for years.

Earlier, a team led by genetics’ Chris Todd Hittinger discovered that lager yeasts come from the hybridization of two yeasty forebears: Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces eubayanus. So a remaining question was: Did two hybridization events, or just one, lead to the creation of Frohberg and Saaz?

Hittinger’s team recently found the answer. Using genetic sequencing, they were able to confirm the existence of two separate hybridization events. Here’s how a Los Angeles Times article about the project put it:

The genome analysis […] allowed the team to pin down the origins of the Saaz and Frohberg lager yeast lineages, concluding that they first emerged from different S. cerevisiae sources, both of which hybridized separately with similar strains of S. eubayanus.

The article also explains how, In the future, this line of work may lead to tastier lager beers and improved biofuels.

More information can be found in the LA Times article or this UW news release.