#FEMSmicroBlog: Fermenting Futures and the artistic view on yeast biotechnology


Yeasts are everywhere, including on and within us. And we have been using them long before we even knew how they worked. Thanks to yeasts and their fermentation ability, we can taste the delicious aromas of beer, wine and other beverages, the flavor of warm, fluffy bread loaves and many delicious pastries. For the public to appreciate these microorganisms, the exhibition “Fermenting Future” was born and its impact on the public summarized in the article “Fermenting Futures: an artistic view on yeast biotechnology” in FEMS Yeast Research. Özge Ata Akyol describes for the #FEMSmicroBlog how this science outreach project aims to increase the public awareness of yeast research. #FascinatingMicrobes


Art is all around us

In the past, many scientists took credit as artists. It is difficult to draw a clear line between art and science when we think of the Vitruvian man of Leonardo Da Vinci, Mediterranean Radiolaria and medusa drawings from Ernst Haeckel. The Naturgemälde by Alexander von Humboldt can even be considered as one of the first infographics.

Actually, the separation of life sciences and art (and humanities) is rather a modern concept. And it seems that an artistic point of view on life sciences may help remove the barriers between the public and scientists. By pushing to think beyond scientific concepts, BioArt can disseminate scientific theories and results to a broader public and initiate new discussions.

Separating life sciences from art and humanities is rather a modern concept.

BioArt is an emerging discipline in which artists employ various materials and methods of biological sciences as an artistic medium to create novel meanings of biology. The results of such a BioArt project were recently published in the perspective “Fermenting Futures: an artistic view on yeast biotechnology” in FEMS Yeast Research. This “Fermenting Futures” project explains the significance of yeast research to the public and how such an art-science collaboration would alter and widen our views on our own work.

Fermenting Futures
Fermenting Futures. Image credit: Anna Dumitriu and Alex May.


Fermenting Futures – a new BioArt project

“Fermenting Futures” explores the role yeast played in the history of humankind. The project highlights how we used yeast in baking and brewing, all the way to the future of biotechnology with their potential contributions to fight the climate crisis. The project premiered at the 15th International Congress on Yeasts on 24th August 2021, linking the physical exhibition programme currently in progress.

The central work of the series uses a yeast strain that can capture CO2 and converts it to lactic acid. This molecule is the precursor of polylactic acid used in bioplastics. This work invites us to think about the future of our planet and the environmental crisis we are facing these days. It further focuses on the role that yeast biotechnology plays to confront these global problems.

In “The Bio-archaeology of Yeast”, works of fine art and sites of cultural heritage are in the spotlight. As such, “black yeast”, which are extremotolerant and inhabit antiquities, are explored. These are meant as something not to be cleaned but as the object of aesthetic appreciation in themselves.

The Bio-archaeology of Yeast
The Bio-archaeology of Yeast. Image credit: Anna Dumitriu and Alex May.

The co-evolution of yeast and humans, and the relationship between fermentation, brewing, bread and human civilization are explored in the “Culture”. This project aims to convey the idea that yeasts were driving this relationship rather than humans.


Science outreach to better understand our history

Such a science-art collaboration shifts the perspective on yeast research and how we use these important organisms. It also seems that not only scientists and artists, but also the public outside of these communities can benefit from such art-science collaborations.

Not only scientists and artists, but also the public can benefit from science-art collaborations.

Art can be an excellent medium to disseminate scientific findings and awake public interest and awareness for yeast research. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the premiere of the physical exhibition. However, the public will meet the “Fermenting Futures” project very soon. Until then, a virtual showcase is available for anyone who wants to know how yeasts shaped our history.



About the author of this blog

Özge Ata is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology in the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (Austria) and The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB). She holds a PhD in Biotechnology from the Middle East Technical University, Turkey. She has developed an interest in a nonconventional yeast, Komagataella phaffii during her PhD and currently. her research is involved in exploring how its carbon and energy metabolism work and how it can be reprogrammed.

About this blog section

#BehindThePaper posts on the #FEMSmicroBlog aim to bring the science closer to different audiences and to tell more about the scientific or personal journey to come to the results.

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