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NC State to partner with U.S. Department of Energy to sequence wine yeast genome

July 28, 2009

Media Contact: Dr. Trevor Phister, NC State assistant professor of food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences, 919-513-1644

Ever had a glass of wine that tasted the way a barnyard smells? The culprit likely was a yeast, Dekkera (Brettanomyces) bruxellensis, that plagues wine production worldwide. North Carolina State University researcher Dr. Trevor Phister is leading the charge to control the yeast and potentially reprogram it to add value in bioethanol production.

Phister, assistant professor of food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences at NC State, and collaborators from five other labs submitted a proposal to the United States Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (JGI) for sequencing of the Dekkera genome. Sequencing, or determining the exact order of base pairs in a DNA molecule, will shed light on how the organism works and could pave the way for future research. The proposal was approved through the JGI Community Sequencing Program, and work will begin soon.

Along with Phister, the project's principal investigator, the team comprises Dr. Scott Baker of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Dr. Linda Bisson of the University of California, Davis; Dr. Fred Dietrich of Duke University; Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling of Washington State University and Dr. Jure Piskur of Lund University in Sweden.

"From a microbial spoilage standpoint in wine, this yeast is the big problem we have," Phister said. "Because the yeast thrives in high-ethanol environments, it also is a contaminant in biofuel fermentations, causing a decrease in the amount of ethanol that those fermentations produce."

Phister's lab will provide JGI with the DNA of the yeast, and JGI will sequence it. Phister said the final step is for his team to examine the finished genome to make sure it is annotated properly. It's a big project: The Dekkera genome has about 7,000 genes.

"There are people around the world trying to use the yeast to produce acetic acid and ethanol, but the full genome hasn't ever been sequenced," he said. "I know from my interaction with the wine community that there are labs in Australia, France and South Africa eager to use this sequence.

"Once we're finished, we hope that the sequence will help in developing control measures for Dekkera in both wine and biofuel fermentations," Phister said. "We're also looking at adapting the yeast and trying to use it for fuel production."

Phister expects the project to last from one to three years.

"It's going to be an exciting project," he said, "and it will shape the direction of future research."

Written by:
Suzanne Stanard, 919-513-3126 or

Posted by Suzanne at July 28, 2009 09:21 AM