Bioprospecting to Bioproducts

Our post-doc, Fabio Santomauro talks about how bioprospecting can lead to new scientific discoveries.

The first time I ran across biodiversity was at the beginning of my PhD project. I was trying to optimise the production of wine through the use of wild yeasts in order to improve the overall quality of wine. That’s when I found out about non-Saccharomyces yeasts and their applications. In oenology (that’s wine making to me and you), these yeast have been known for a long time as they can naturally be found on grape skins as well as on other fruit and flowers, which start the fermentation process once the fruit has been pressed.

An example of the wide variety of species that can be obtained when bioprospecting.

An example of the wide variety of species that can be obtained when bioprospecting.

There are lots of different types of non-Saccharomyces yeast including Dekkera, Rhodotorula, Candida, Debaryomyces, Schizosaccharomyces, Pichia and Metschnikowia species. Many others are reported in the literature to grow during the initial stages of wine fermentation, enduring the harsh conditions of low pH and a high sugar environment.

These features, together with an uncommon metabolic plasticity, mean that non-Saccharomyces yeast are also suitable for industrial biotechnological processes where similar conditions are often present.

For my post-doc project, I used the same procedures followed in oenology and started to isolate wild yeasts from the environment. Subsequently, I’m going to screen them for the ability to endure harsh conditions and to produce high value products.

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