Bioinformatics: The Frontier of Genetics and Beer

By Sean Quigley


It’s 2018. We live in an age where technological advances are occuring at record rates, and science is one of the main beneficiaries of this. Advances in computing has paved the way for advances in the world of biotech. Specifically, this beautiful synthesis of carbon based life and silicon based hardware has lead to the field of bioinformatics. Bioinformatics is a subfield of both biology and computer science, allowing the bioinformatician to analyze whole genome genetic sequences, expression patterns of genes, metagenomics, and much more. With these powerful tools we have performed impressive tasks such as exploring the inner workings of diseases, gaining further understanding of molecular genetics, and acquiring a better understanding of the microbes that make our beer.


Yes, that’s correct. Bioinformatics has lead to a better understand of everyone’s favorite bubbly beverage. In an effort to engage non-scientists across Europe, a group of crowdfunded labs performed metagenomic analysis 120 different types of beers from 20 different countries. Metagenomics is the study of all of the microorganisms that make up a specific environment of interest. In the case of this study, the scientists were looking at the environment of the beer itself. The goal of this study was to gain better insight into the microbial world that makes up beer.


Beer gains its star ingredient, alcohol, from mostly the fungus Saccharomyces, more commonly known as yeast. There are also other fungi that add to the fermentation of sugar and metabolic production of alcohol which are less known and were identified in this study. Identification of these fungal alcohol producers was done by extracting DNA directly from the beer and using high throughput sequencing to obtain files containing the genetic code of each beer. High throughput sequencing is a sequencing method that is very popular among bioinformaticians since it is relatively cheap and highly accurate. Bioinformatic techniques then allowed the scientists to analyze what microbe was in what beer.


This study was not trying to correlate taste in beer to microbial presence, but rather engage citizens in the growing world of science and show the potential that is there. This paper opens up many doors for beer-snobs and scientists alike. Although there were no formal results since this paper was an exploratory paper, it shows where the technology of bioinformatics is going. As the cost of sequencing genomes is dropping at a drastic rate, this technology could just as easily be available to home brewers as it is to highly funded scientists.


Referenes:


Sobel J, Henry L, Rotman N and Rando G. BeerDeCoded: the open beer metagenome project [version 1; referees: 3 approved with reservations]. F1000Research 2017, 6:1676 (doi: 10.12688/f1000research.12564.1)

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