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The National Collection of Yeast Cultures

Copyright: Masur, Wikimedia Commons

From bread to beer, Brewers' yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisae) makes food products we consume daily in our billions across the world. Now these ancient unicellular fungi are poised to become a defining organism of the modern era.

Yeast can be used in biorefineries to make biofuels for transport as well as platform chemicals for a variety of medical and industrial processes. Moreover, yeast are a key model organism in the emerging field of synthetic biology, and engineered or even reconstructed artificial strains may be manufacturing the fuels, food and pharmaceuticals of the future by metabolising novel chemicals from substrates from straw to seaweed.

Data breakout

65 Number of years the NCYC (including previous incarnations) has been collecting yeast strains
1500 Approximate number of yeast species discovered so far (estimates of 10-100 times more to be found)
2011 Yeast made with partially 'artificial chromosomes' recreated using DNA sequencing

BBSRC supports the old and the new sides of yeast research through the National Collection of Yeast Cultures, which is based at the Institute of Food Research on the Norwich Research Campus. Since 2012 the NCYC has been funded as a BBSRC National Capability, a resource that can be used by scientists in the community in the UK and in collaboration across the world. "The National Capability enables us to launch various products and services on the back of the capability we have, so in addition to providing services such as identification and safe deposit we can do a host of other research-oriented activities," says Curator of the NCYC Dr Ian Roberts.

The services include DNA sequencing identification of new strains, as well as cold storage (in liquid nitrogen at -196°C) of more than 4000 pure reference samples (including patent strains) worth billions to brewing and biotechnology companies around the world. The NCYC also acts as an information hub, providing advice on the management of genetic resources how to make them available to other research communities, from universities to major industrial brewers or biotech start-ups. The Earlham Institute and an advanced experimental biorefinery located on-site at IFR are two close collaborators.

The Synthetic Yeast 2.0 programme, funded by BBSRC and EPSRC, now aims to build an entire yeast genome – the first time this has been attempted in a eukaryotic (non-bacterial) organism.