This is a little off topic for my usual content, but when I read about this, I had to share. Here’s one for the beer nerds.
A cargo ship, known as the Wallachia, sank off the Scottish coast in 1895 after colliding with another ship in heavy fog. Aboard the vessel were some chemicals, like tin chloride, but more importantly, thousands of bottles libations, like whiskey, gin and of course, BEER – most of which have been preserved on the cold ocean floor for more than a 100 years!
Amateur diver, Steve Hickman, has been diving to the wrecked ship since the 1980’s and has retrieved countless bottles of alcohol. Here’s where it get’s interesting…
The bottles of beer that Hickman brought landside were handed over to scientists at Brewlab, a department within the University of Sunderland in the UK, were able to extract live cultures from the liquid inside a few of the bottles. After yeast propagation, they attempted to recreate the original beer! Apparently, the yeast strain discovered from the Wallachia was an unusual type, which provoked the research team to evaluate if this long-lost strain could possibly improve the way beer is fermented, or at least further diversify the yeast strains in the market.
This type of search and discovery, technically known as bioprospecting, is not uncommon. In fact, researchers have been scouring shipwrecks, ancient pots and failed distilleries in search of ancient yeast strains that may linger on surfaces or even in the air.
After Brewlab scientists opened the bottles in a sterile air environment, so that the yeast strain would be as pure as it was within the bottle, they discovered two strains were used to brew the stout: Brettanomyces and Debaryomyces, the former being a uncommon find amongst historic beers but has made it’s appearance in some Spontaneously fermented Belgian ales.
Even more exciting about the finding of Debaryomyces, is that it has the potential to be propagated and used as a bioremediation yeast. What this means is that due to this specific strain’s tolerance of heavy metals like arsenic and lead, the Debaryomyces could act as an absorption of pollutants to clean up contaminated waterways. It could also potential aid the pharmaceutical industry, as many modern medicines are developed with the help of yeasts.
To go even further down the yeast-nerd corridor, check out the original article I found on this topic. It’s freaking fascinating.