It sounds like a step closer to the mythical Elixir of the Greek Gods, but it's true: Swedish science is on its way to bring us a better tasting light beer!

Yeast is an important ingredient in the production of various foods such as wine, beer ,cheese and sausage. In ages past, many yeasts were used, but nowadays it has been boiled down to a meager handful. However, for both beer and wine, interest is mounting for using a variety of yeasts to give different characteristics to the liquid drinks, and the same applies for other foods.

“For example, there is a great interest in producing light beer with more flavor, and we hope that new species of yeast can contribute to this”, says Professor Jure Piskur from the Department of Biology at Lund University in Sweden, who is is coordinating a comprehensive yeast research program.

Yeasts can be found everywhere in nature; on humans, animals, fruit - dozens of species of yeast live on grapes alone - anywhere they have access to sugar. In total there are a thousand identified species in the world, but at least 10,000 new species are expected to be discovered within the near future.

The EU is backing up that mold with money by investing $4.18 million (€3.4 million) in a research program on yeast that hopes for new products both in terms of flavors and also healthy probiotic products.

“The difference in genetic makeup between different yeast species is actually larger than the difference between fish and humans," notes Piskur. It is this large genetic variation between yeast species that gives promising potential for the food industry to explore.

Part of the funding entails starting a consortium, called "Cornucopia," which involves partners from universities and private companies. Business sector partners include the famous Danish brewery, Carlsberg. The project will start next January and last four years, during which a special school will train researchers to become experts in the field.

Source: Biology Dept., Lund University, www.lu.se