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Building Better Beer Through Molecular Biology

Most brewers say that making beer is both a science and an art. Biotechniques reports this week that the science of brewing is making great strides thanks to molecular biology tools and technologies.

For instance, one group at Niigata University in Japan recently developed a method to isolate DNA from beer for subsequent PCR analysis. The group used some known primers and also designed novel primers based on species-specific DNA sequences from the main ingredients in beer — barley, yeast, and hops — then analyzed the quality and variety of those ingredients in 22 beer samples.

The Niigata University team also developed a magnetic bead-based sample prep method to separate DNA and eliminate PCR inhibitors from freeze-dried beer samples.

Using these techniques, the researchers were able to identify DNA from yeast, hops, barley, corn, soybean, and rice; and were able to detect 16 different barley cultivars across their samples — findings that they say could improve ingredient quality control or help brewers select the ideal malted barley for their elixirs.

Meantime, Biotechniques reports, James Madison University researcher Christine Hughey is using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze her pint.

After a line of single-hop beers — concoctions all brewed in essentially the same manner save the variety of hops used — piqued her interest, Hughey applied LC-MS to identify the distinguishing chemical characteristics that each hop variety imparted to the beer.

Hughey is now developing software to pinpoint which molecular features are unique to a particular hop in a particular year.

Daily Scan reports that it is happy to be part of a blinded tasting panel to assess the results of these experiments — all in the name of science, of course.