Have you ever wondered what kind of beer you can make from the native flora of Australia? Or how wild yeasts can be used for other applications such as biotechnology, medicine, or food production?
A new project called Wild Yeast Zoo is inviting the public to join a citizen science adventure at the 2023/4 Woodford Folk Festival to discover and collect wild yeasts from the environment and explore their potential uses.
The project is supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology, Inspiring NSW, Inspiring Queensland, the University of Newcastle, Macquarie University and the Woodford Folk Festival, an annual music and cultural festival held in Queensland from December 27 2023 to January 1 2024.
During the festival, the Wild Yeast Zoo team will present a public lecture and lead walking tours, inviting festival participants to join in hands-on citizen science activities. Participants will gather yeast samples from the Woodford site, contributing to ongoing research and exploration of the world of wild yeast.
The scientists will undertake genetic testing of the yeast and describe it’s brewing characteristics, all while ensuring they comply with an international framework to which Australia is not a signatory known as the Nagoya Protocol, which was specifically designed to protect the IP of traditional landowners.
Synthetic Biologist, Mr Evan Gibbs, said that wild yeasts are everywhere in nature, but they are often overlooked and underutilised. “Wild yeasts have amazing diversity and potential to produce novel flavours and aromas in beer, as well as valuable compounds and enzymes for other industries. We want to explore this untapped resource and create a ‘zoo’ of these yeasts and their stories,” Mr Gibbs said.
To participate in the project, people can sign up on the Wild Yeast Zoo website and receive a free sampling kit that contains instructions, tubes, and labels. They can then go out and collect samples from plants, flowers, fruits, or any other natural source of yeast. The samples from Woodford can be sent back to the University of Newcastle, where they will be analysed and characterised by the researchers.
The participants will receive a report on their samples, including the identification and characteristics of the yeasts they collected. They can share their stories on the Wild Yeast Zoo website and social media platform and may also have the opportunity to name their yeasts. The most interesting and promising yeasts will be selected for brewing experiments with local brewery partners, who will create a range of sour beers with unique flavours.
The project also aims to explore other applications of wild yeasts beyond brewing, such as biotechnology, medicine, or food production. The researchers will collaborate with industry partners and experts to identify and test the potential uses of wild yeasts in different domains. For example, some wild yeasts may produce enzymes that can degrade plastics or pollutants, or compounds that can act as antibiotics or anti-inflammatories.
Project communication specialist from the University of Newcastle, Dr Benjamin Matthews, said that the project is part of a growing field of synthetic biology, which applies engineering workflows and sophisticated genetic technologies to rapidly design and build novel biological solutions. “Synthetic biology is a transformative and interdisciplinary field of science that has applications in sectors like health, agriculture, biosecurity and the environment. It could help us solve some of Australia’s greatest challenges and create a thriving bioeconomy worth up to $27 billion by 2040” Dr Matthews said.
The project has recently been selected for the Boot Camp round of the CSIRO ON Accelerate program, a structured accelerator program for research teams to validate and develop high potential innovative ventures. “We are very excited to be part of this program and receive mentoring and support from CSIRO and other experts. This will help us to refine our value proposition and business model, as well as connect with potential customers and investors,” Dr Matthews said.
The project also hopes to contribute to the development of a new Australian yeast industry that can compete with the global market. “Australia has a rich history and culture of beer making, but we rely heavily on imported yeasts from Europe and America. We want to create our own Australian yeasts that reflect our unique environment and identity, as well as discover new applications of these yeasts that can benefit society and the planet,” Mr Gibbs said.
Wild Yeast Zoo is open for registration, the sampling kits are limited and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. The project’s kits and sampling techniques will be showcased at the Woodford Folk Festival, where the public will be able to explore the hidden world of wild yeast.
For more information about Wild Yeast Zoo, visit www.wildyeastzoo.com or follow @wildyeastzoo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
Dr Benjamin Matthews / Wild Yeast Zoo
Header Image: Field work. Photo credit: Shaun Woodford