New way to make yeast hybrids may inspire new brews, biofuels

Photo: Glass of beer being poured from tap

About 500 years ago, the accidental natural hybridization of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast responsible for things like ale, wine and bread, and a distant yeast cousin gave rise to lager beer.

Today, cold-brewed lager is the world’s most consumed alcoholic beverage, fueling an industry with annual sales of more than $250 billion.

The first lagers depended on the serendipitous cross of Saccharomyces species as evolutionarily diverse as humans and chickens. The result, however, yielded a product of enormous economic value, demonstrating the latent potential of interspecies yeast hybrids. In nature, the odds of a similar hybridization event are, conservatively, one in a billion.

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