I love that @eLIFE is publishing draft papers now (brewery microbiome)

OK that was deceptive of me.  This is not a draft paper.  But it is a paper about drafts – beer that is:  Mapping microbial ecosystems and spoilage-gene flow in breweries highlights patterns of contamination and resistance | eLife.

And, well, I am a bit biased since it came from UC Davis colleagues, but it is really cool.

The eLIFE digest is helpful:

Many microbes–including bacteria and fungi–can affect the food and drink we consume, for better and for worse. Some spoil food, making it less tasty or even harmful to health. However, microbes can also be important ingredients: for example, yeast ferments malted barley sugars to make the alcohol and flavor of beer.

Nowadays, many beers are made under carefully controlled conditions, where the only microbes in the beer should be the strain of yeast added to the barley sugars. A more traditional ‘coolship’ method can be used to make sour beers; the barley sugars cool in an open-topped vessel and are fermented by the yeast and bacteria found naturally on the raw ingredients and in the surrounding environment.

Relatively little was known about how microbes spread around and adapt to living inside buildings. Now, Bokulich et al. have used a range of molecular and statistical techniques to examine how bacteria and fungi are dispersed throughout a North American brewery that produces beer using both conventional and coolship brewing techniques. Most of the microbes found in the building originated from the raw ingredients used to make the beer, with different parts of the brewery containing different species. Over the course of a year, some species spread to new parts of the building; a statistical method predicted the sources of these microbes, and revealed some key areas and features of the brewery that affect microbial transfer.

Bokulich et al. also looked at the spread of genes that enable their bacterial hosts to spoil beer, including those that protect bacteria from the antimicrobial action of the hops that flavor many beers. Lactic acid bacteria are the main cause of beer spoilage and so are usually to be avoided in breweries, but are also a normal ingredient in sour beer. In the brewery Bokulich et al. investigated, beer-spoilage and hop-resistance genes were found throughout the brewery, even in areas not used to produce sour beer. However, little beer spoilage occurred.

The techniques used by Bokulich et al. to track the spread of microbes and their detrimental genes could be used in the future to understand how microbes adapt to other indoor environments.

Indeed, Bokulich et al. suggest that breweries could be used as models to safely understand the factors that influence microbial movement in any food-production facility as well as other building environments.

It is definitely worth a look – it has some nice analyses of variation within the brewery and also mapping of contamination.

Figure 1.

Hopefully we can get one of the authors to write more about it …

Thanks to Elisabeth Bik for pointing me to this paper.

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Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.