Ever found yourself cooking up some of your home-brew, only to realise that your yeast isn’t playing ball? Panic no more, because cyborg yeast can switch itself on.
A team of researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich have set up a feedback loop which uses light to communicate with live yeast. They use carefully controlled pulses of red light to turn gene expression in the yeast on or off. When the gene expression’s turned on, the yeast produces the proteins that do all the cool stuff we love it for: turning sugar into alcohol and making bread rise.
But what’s really neat is that they can detect the activity of the yeast by shoving a reporter molecule into the mix, that itself gives off light when the yeast is active. That makes it possible to fine-tune the activity of the yeast, keeping it at a constant state of activity. Perfect for keeping your hideous home-made booze on an even keel, or for big breweries to make their products even more consistent.
Either way, what’s more impressive than being able to pour care and attention into the brewing process is the fact that it provides such a simple way of controlling an incredibly complex biochemical processes. We’re just waiting to be able to use a similar trick to age cheese just the way we like it. [Nature Biotechnology via BBC]