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Homologous Recombination: A GRAS Yeast Genome Editing Tool

A review from Beatrice Bernardi and Jürgen Wendland published in Fermentation, 2020

The fermentation industry is known to be very conservative, relying on traditional yeast management. Yet, in the modern fast-paced world, change comes about in facets such as climate change altering the quality and quantity of harvests, changes due to government regulations e.g., the use of pesticides or SO2, the need to become more sustainable, and of course by changes in consumer preferences. As a silent companion of the fermentation industry, the wine yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae has followed mankind through millennia, changing from a Kulturfolger, into a domesticated species for the production of bread, beer, and wine and further on into a platform strain for the production of biofuels, enzymes, flavors, or pharmaceuticals. This success story is based on the ‘awesome power of yeast genetics’. Central to this is the very efficient homologous recombination (HR) machinery of S. cerevisiae that allows highly-specific genome edits. This microsurgery tool is so reliable that yeast has put a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) label onto itself and entrusted to itself the life-changing decision of mating type-switching. Later, yeast became its own genome editor, interpreted as domestication events, to adapt to harsh fermentation conditions. In biotechnology, yeast HR has been used with tremendous success over the last 40 years. Here we discuss several types of yeast genome edits then focus on HR and its inherent potential for evolving novel wine yeast strains and styles relevant for changing markets.

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