Wine production is a very large industry and in today’s market, producers are looking for ways to improve on their existing product in order to create new wines with more desirable bouquets and also to improve the industrial processes making production cheaper, faster and more efficient. One of the major fields studied in order to achieve these goals is the engineering of yeast species to make improved wine strains.
The most commonly used microorganism is Saccharomyces cerivisiae. As one of the leading fermenters in wine production, its robust characteristics, tolerance and the relative efficiency and speed of its fermentations provide a strong base for improvements. There are two major areas of focus for genetic improvements: improving existing traits such as ethanol tolerance and flocculation and the addition of new traits mainly for providing flavour compounds, but there is also interest in modification to add other useful traits such as bactericidal activity to prevent spoilage.
A major area of study in yeast engineering is genomics and genetic mapping using techniques such as quantitative trait loci mapping. More phenotypic traits are now being genetically linked. Using this data will greatly assist yeast breeding programmes to acquire desired traits and will also help in the fields of genetic modification and interspecific hybridisation, allowing scientists to more accurately select desired phenotypes.
Interspecific hybridisation is a key step to introducing desired traits into yeast while avoiding genetic modification. It utilises yeast rare mating to breach the species barrier without risking the loss of important fermentative genes allowing for the introduction of unique flavour and aroma compounds in inoculated cultures without hampering production.
Another field of interest is genetic modification. It is widely available for improving yeast strains with many being showcased in other fields such as in the biofuel industry. However, due to distrust of GM foods, the wine industry does not allow GM products in its production process, but in the future it would open the way for much more efficient wine production with unique properties, such as low alcohol, full flavoured wines.