We have recently published a new Thematic Issue of FEMS Yeast Research on Yeast Ecology and Interaction. FEMS Yeast Research is pleased to offer this set of minireviews that provide a current perspective on yeast ecology.
There is a particular focus on fermented products as well as on some of the fundamental concepts of ecological interactions. Almost 150 years after the development of pure yeast cultures, we hope that these articles will remind us of the biological and biotechnological importance of yeast ecology.
The concept of working with pure cultures is deeply ingrained in the psyche of the microbiologist. Whether is it for molecular studies in the laboratory or for biotechnological processes, we strive to avoid contamination and maintain genetically homogenous pure strains. The pioneering work in the late nineteenth century of early yeast researchers like Hansen, Lindner, and Elion demonstrated the importance of using pure yeast strains for brewing and more than a hundred years later this is still the typical practice in that industry. The concept spread to other fermented beverage sectors such as baking and wine-making and many single species cultures are available for these processes.
But is this the only way? For example, there are many natural fermented product where mixed cultures are the norm: think of lambic beer, spontaneous wines and ciders, fermented dairy products and sourdough bread. Indeed, it is increasingly felt that interactions between microbes increase the metabolic potential of the community and give rise to more complex fermented products. Because of this, efforts are being made to use microbial consortia in some food or beverage fermentations.
Moving from food fermentations to industrial biotechnology, the concept of designing a consortium of engineered species to carry out particular biotechnological processes, perhaps by sharing metabolic load and diving labour, is attracting also attention. Such synthetic ecology approaches will be strongly informed by the natural ecological interactions that are part and parcel of the normal life-cycle of wild microbes.
Outside of the laboratory or bioreactor, microbes do not live in splendid isolation, rather they are in communities where intra and inter-species interactions play a large part in determining genetic and metabolic patterns. Understanding these communities needs knowledge of their members and, in this regard, we have benefited enormously from the work of yeast taxonomists like the late Cletus Kurzman whose work greatly expanded our knowledge of yeast diversity.
More recently, attention has also been directly towards the application of the latest techniques to study natural interactions between yeasts and other microbes they encounter as well as with their broader environment.