Better Beer Through Gene Editing

As much as today’s American beer drinker seems to like hoppy IPAs and other pale ales, it’s a shame that hops are so expensive to produce and transport. Did you know that it can take 50 pints of water to grow enough hops to produce one pint of craft beer? While hops aren’t critical to beer brewing, they do add essential oils and aromas that turn otherwise flat-tasting beer into delicious suds.

Using UC Berkley’s own simple and affordable CRISPR-CaS9 gene editing system, researchers [Charles Denby] and [Rachel Li] have edited strains of brewer’s yeast to make it taste like hops. These modified strains both ferment the beer and provide the hoppy flavor notes that beer drinkers crave. The notes come from mint and basil genes, which the researchers spliced in to yeast genes along with the CaS9 protein and promoters that help make the edit successful. It was especially challenging because brewer’s yeast has four sets of chromosomes, so they had to do everything four times. Otherwise, the yeast might reject the donor genes.

So, how does it taste? A group of employees from a nearby brewery participated in a blind taste test and agreed that the genetically modified beer tasted even hoppier than the control beer. That’s something to raise a glass to. Call and cab and drive across the break for a quick video.

Have you always wanted to brew your own beer, but don’t know where to start? If you have a sous vide cooker, you’re in luck.

Main image via [Craft Beer].

Via [Science Daily]

63 thoughts on “Better Beer Through Gene Editing

  1. The hop wars seems to have peaked fortunately. During the height of the IPA fad the number of “craft” beers from the US and Europe that actually were palatable could be counted on one hand. One can only pretend to really like sucking on the inner tube of a bicycle tire so many times I guess.

    On this side of the pond, the scarcity of hops is gradually returning back to sane levels and prices now that bitterness isn’t a competition anymore and hops are not considered the main ingredient.

      1. Indeed, if only to induce some level of sobriety among the IPA madness. I mean, at some point I came across A Belgian dark Indian pale ale. What, where the..Que? Belgian – Indian, dark – pale???? Seriously?

        1. Maybe you just think you know your beer since belgian and black IPAs are a common thing.
          Also, you not liking IPAs doesn’t mean other people doesn’t like and enjoy that delicious bitter liquid, period.

          1. Fundamentally, there isn’t anything wrong with it but the name. Beer nomenclature generally is a mess, but (US) craft beer “culture” really did not do it any favours.

            Belgian style? What do you mean? fermented in bottle? Wild yeasting? But I can get over that.

            Dark? How so? Roasted/smoked malts like German Schwartz?, due to the process like some top fermenting processes? or because It will kill your soul? Well, that can be explained on the label.. no biggy.

            But IPA ? Apart from IPAs having nothing to do with traditional IPAs on which existence we have merely some hypothesis. If definitely isn’t Indian (or imperial if that is your preferred myth). It certainly isn’t pale.. and often it isn’t even ale!

            the IPA and Belgian are stuck on purely for marketing purposes. Now I understand that a label saying Geuze style tripled hopped roasted barley brew perhaps isn’t the best marketing wise, but at least it isn’t a lie.

        2. Seems clear to me: Belgian strain of yeast (maybe some spices too), dark from the malt, IPA from the hops varieties used or IBUs of the finished product.
          A mouthful to say but not the cipher you’re making it out to be.
          Perhaps Belgian Dark Bitter is better but there’s a fair amount of discussion on what to call dark IPAs in general, Cascadian Dark Ale (particularly if you use pacific northwest hops) or Black IPA are common, but not entirely accepted.
          IPAs have come to be known for their high gravity and hoppy flavors, not their pale colors. Unless you’re in a competition, where you’ll get dinged for SRM / Lovibond. Even then if you put dark in the description most judges will grant some leeway. After all, the competition is more about flavor than matching color swatches.

    1. I use Cascade hops in my brew and it always turns out great! I carbonate with pressurized CO2 so no yeast taste at all. I use 1.5 times the amount of hops called for in my recipe and it is never bitter or tastes like an inner tube…in fact, it tastes a lot like Heineken for like $.40/beer. The type of hops you choose and the way you brew makes most of the difference. A little care goes a long way.

  2. The industrial scale breweries will be happy about this, as they will be able to increase their profits by taking away another ingredient from the list. It won’t be long before they will “brew” with just water, sugar and yeast.

    1. Perhaps some will try, but I suspect these will be the usual suspects that produce those beers that are like making love in a canoe.

      I can’t see the majority of European macro breweries taking hop out of the equation, especially in Germany where the Reinheitsgebot, although not binding anymore, is still observed almost fanatically.

      In the end I do not think that beers that use a sane amount of hops (not IPA) really would not benefit that much from switching to artificial bitterness, especially when you consider the antiseptic effects of hops.

      1. It’s not the bitterness that they added to the yeast.

        Hopping happens in two stages. The first hopping produces the bitterness, and the second hopping produces the interesting fruity flavors and aromas. That’s because the aromas are volatile and boil off during the process, so it isn’t but the very last ingredients added before the wort is cooled that makes the flavor. Any hops added at the beginning just add bitterness.

        The genes they spliced in produce the aromas, not the bitterness, so the brewery can avoid using fancy specially grown hops that cost a pretty penny. They still add the bitters, but that can be of lower quality mass-produced swill.

    1. That knee-jerk fear of GMO isn’t as sane as you think it is. Nature’s source code is not some kind of inviolate, unchanging, fragile thing. Constant flux is all it knows.

    2. There are mint and basil flavored beers already, so if the worst that happens is you can’t save yeast from previous batches, I think most breweries will accept the consequences, as long as it’s predictable.

    3. Nature makes more savage changes to an organism’s source code all the time, Retroviruses are constantly injecting their own DNA into it’s host’s cells all the time in order to reproduce. Look at Herpes for example, the virus finds nerve cells, gets inside, splices itself into the cell’s DNA using enzymes, then uses the cell’s internal mechanisms to reproduce. The human genome is full of left-over bits of long forgotten retroviruses. The difference between a virus doing the change and a scientist is the scientist is watching and observing the effect of the changes and if they are bad, they terminate the cells. In nature you could end up with a global pandemic killing people and animals eveywhere while Doctors are on the back foot trying to work out what is going on.

      1. The classic examples are probably Y. Pestis which killed more than half the population of western Europe, and Spanish flu which killed millions world wide. No artificial genetic modifications there.

    1. I share you sentiments, but hops are a relatively new addition to the beer brewing process, coming into fashion only in the 15th, 16 and 17th century. Before that, the “bitterness agent” was a herbal pakage called “gruit”. It contained various herbs, plants and spices and in Europe it was the gruit that was legislated and taxed. Making the gruit was a protected discipline and there were laws how much beer could be produced from a certain amount.

      The discovery of hops as a beer ingredient were perhaps a way to circumvent these taxes, but it also made the process cleaner and easier. While gruit had some antiseptic properties, it could also contain certain elements that were less than desirable such as “gagel” (Myrica gale), which, if consumed in enough quantities could render you blind.

      Gruit recipes were closely kept secrets and not a lot is know about the specifics of the mixture, but the last decades a few micro-brewers have started experimenting with it and several gruit beers are available now.

      1. I love hoppy flavors but hate bitter beers. Treehouse is local to me (15 mins) and their beers so far are the only ones where I can get a DIPA, DAPA, etc and have them not be bitter at all.

        1. Hoppy isn’t a synonym for bitter. Yes, hops are a bittering agent but when you add them to the boil has as much of an impact as how much of which variety you add. Generally the longer they are boiled the more bitter the beer is. The hop oils undergo some complex reactions as they boil that change the flavor profiles, evaporating the more floral and fruity oils as well as changing their structure.

      2. “if consumed in enough quantities could render you blind.”
        These days beer not only doesn’t make you blind, it large quantities it can make you see twice as much!

      3. Hops where actually, at least in the German Reich, introduced as part of the Reinheitsgebot. As a way to control brewing economically. Since to be legal, beers had to be brewed with nothing else than water, hops and malts. And hops was only allowed to be grown by the clergy, because it’s a medical herb. So basically the clergy found a way to control the beer market, and made a shitload of money.

        1. In fact, the Reinheitsgebot of 1516, originally a Bavarian law, didn’t just specify malts, it specified barley. Under the law, brewing with wheat wasn’t allowed to be called beer. Apparently Weizen was popular with aristocracy and subsequently regulated and licensed to a limited number of court suppliers which had a monopoly on it.

          Funny thing that modern German Weizens often say that they observe the Reinheitsgebot, when in fact they “break” the rule! Of course a lot of German brewers brew in spirit of the gebot, which I think is a good thing.

          1. There was an official amendment to the reinheitsgebot about the wheat in weizens, and they where heavily taxed. Also they where the only beers that where allowed to be brewed for about six months of the year so big money for the government.

      4. Interesting. Last summer I tried a beer supposedly made from an ancient Egyptian recipe, that probably had no hops. Unfortunately it featured anise, which I just don’t care for, so I couldn’t give it a fair evaluation.
        According to Wikipedia two other ingredients used in gruit were horehound and ground ivy, both in the mint family, thus possibly including some of the genes that have now been spliced into yeast.

  3. 1) THIS is why we can’t have nice things.
    2) `UC Berkley’s own simple and affordable CRISPR-CaS9 gene editing system` Didn’t they lose that patent fight?

  4. Hoppiness is like saying something is meaty or spicy. Its a word for normie hipster morons to describe something they don’t understand. There are many different styles of hopping and varieties of hops that all have a distinct flavor profile, and anyone with a modicum of taste will understand “hoppy” beer for the sake of being “hoppy” is absolutely unequivocally disgusting. Reinstate Reinheitsgebot and end this madness.

    1. Put your pitchfork away.

      Yes hops provide a variety of flavors but hoppy and meaty are still useful terms. You’re arguing that someone who calls something green when it’s actually chartreuse is wrong. Sure, if the only descriptor you can use is ‘green’ it’s not the most helpful but it’s also not wrong.
      Common in biology and geology this is the long standing lumper vs splitter argument.
      Just as some languages don’t differentiate between green and blue, it can be ocean grue or forest grue or how pink and red weren’t differentiated until the late 1800’s in English; people are favoring expediency over specificity.

      Rather than shouting ‘it’s not green it’s chartreuse’ how about you just ask for more specifics? If someone describes a beer as ‘meaty’ I might doubt their palate, it might indicate a brewing flaw due to the yeast or the first pint off a fresh keg of unfiltered beer. Help people better describe what they’re tasting.

        1. How so?
          IMO I left plenty of room to describe beer by whatever words you want. Whether it’s hoppy in flavor or aroma you can still use ‘hoppy’ as a descriptor, it’s generally preferable if you say whether it’s hoppy in aroma or flavor but not wrong to use in an XOR case.
          It depends on who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to a BJCP judge you’re gonna expect more granular descriptions than if you’re talking to your friend who only drinks Budweiser / Miller / Coors.

    2. “Reinstate Reinheitsgebot and end this madness.”

      As one who lives under the law, in the belly of Bavaria, I have to say that I appreciate an “illegal” Belgian with all their funny additives now and then.

      (OTOH, it’s strong-beer season here until Friday, so I’m slurping up the domestic good stuff while it’s on tap.)

    1. Heh. I’ve been told that actually changes the taste enough for most people to notice, so the end result is more likely to be a lot of whinging and moaning about the beer being ‘off’ :)

    2. I wonder if it’s just the lowered acidity from not using the Co2 gas?
      Could something like citric acid or some other food safe ingredient be used yet not foul the brew?
      It’s really just a thought exercise now as most all of the people, I knew, that brewed, aren’t with us anymore. :(
      Gentrification of this region seems to have put an end to a great many of the “heirloom” activities. :/

      1. Gaseous helium doesn’t affect the acidity, being a noble gas. Not using CO2 raises the pH, flat beer has a pH of something around 6.5 but since most beer is served carbonated (ie, 1-3x CO2 as beer in your glass, so called ‘volumes’) it’s closer to 4 pH. ‘Nitro’ beers such as Guinness or ‘beer gas’ are carbonated with roughly a 75/25 mix of N / CO2.

        As for the prospect of using helium for carbonation, it wouldn’t work too well, helium doesn’t dissolve very well in water. Apparently about 700x worse than CO2.

        1. Guiness. Now there is a truly disgusting brew.

          I was in Chicago over the St. Paddy’s day celebrations many years ago and the local guys insisted I try this stuff. I took one sip. Just one. The paddy’s – sorry, ‘Irish-Americans’ – thought it was funny.

  5. I find the idea of GM beer disgusting, sacrilegious even. This just seems like a pathetic marketing attempt by some hipster so-called scientists to make GM sound ‘cool’. Next you will be telling me that somebody has created a genetically modified crop that was specifically designed so you could use more toxic herbicide on it. Oh, wait…

    1. GM crops are perfectly safe to eat or drink. Your concerns in your post are unfounded.
      Terminal seed crops are troubling, but that has little to do with genetic modification and more to do with predatory corporate practices.
      It might surprise you to know people other than hipsters like hoppy beer.

  6. “Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.”–Dave Barry

    “Europeans are much more serious than we are in America because they think that a good place to discuss intellectual matters is a beer party.”–Richard P.‭ ‬Feynman

    “Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”–Dave Barry

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