Something about beer

It would be melodramatic to start with, “Beer will save the world!” But the question of biomedical and bioenergy researches bring us to the tale of Saccaromyces cerevisiae, a yeast of a genus commonly used in the manufacture of bread, wine, and beer. S. cerevisiae is a species used to make lagers. Marco Werman of PRI’s The World, and geneticist Chris Todd Hittinger explain:

Orange-colored galls, such as these pictured in 2010, from the beech tree forests of Patagonia have been found to harbor the yeast that makes lager beer possible. Marco Werman: … A lager is a clear, cold-fermented kind of beer. You have to use a specific kind of yeast to make the stuff. Lagers were first brewed in Bavaria in southern Germany back in the 15th century. Scientists have long known that the yeast involved was a hybrid, half European and half well, that was a mystery until now. Turns out the mystery yeast originated in Patagonia on the tip of South America. Chris Todd Hittinger is a genetic scientist and co-author of a study on lager yeast. It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. Hittinger says he and his team made the discovery while investigating different species of yeast, or Saccharomyces, around the globe.

Chris Todd Hittinger: Saccaromyces is the Latin name for the close grouping of yeasts that include the ones that make ale, and bread and wine; and those are all made by cerevisiae, Saccaromyces cerevisiae. And Saccaromyces are often found in association with oak trees and also with fruits. And it turns out that all southern beech trees, they form galls in response to infection by another fungus.

According to Hittinger, the Patagonian yeast contributing to what we now know as S. cerivisiae most likely crossed the Atlantic via trade, both in the products—including fruit, drink, and even wood—and also in the fruit flies that would have come along for the species. And it is true, something about the chronology doesn’t quite match up if we stick strictly to the detail of Werman’s introduction; that is, if we stick with Columbus and 1492. But Hittinger acknowledges, “This is where the genetic research can’t be particularly informative, but we can speculate a little bit.”

Still, though, it was not questions of beer in particular that brought Hittinger to pursue the lineage of lager yeast. Yeast plays an important role in biomedical research and bioenergy development. According to Hittinger, “most of the genome technologies have actually been worked out in half a dozen fairly simple organisms, and Saccaromyces is really one of these champion research organisms.”

So, yes, it is possible that, one day, beer will save the world. But we need not go out and drink ourselves silly to celebrate the potential of one particularly interesting yeast. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to hoist a pint, and it would seem stupid to pound ourselves into a drunken haze to celebrate health.

Then again, we are human.

Or, as a great man once said: Drink up, dreamers; you’re running dry.

Camille’s adventures down the Music Hole

Here’s something you don’t come across every day:

What is a singer? It is someone who sings in the shower every morning like everyone … But, then you go to a recording studio and record the same song you made up in the shower. Except you’ve found crazy enough people to invest on the shower so the shower becomes a hit.

There are plenty of things about French vocalist Camille that might make someone roll their eyes. Body percussion has something of a dubious reputation in my circles; few dispute the talent required, but most tend to remember the likes of Bobby McFerrin with an unfortunate cringe. While one-hit wonders come and go, perhaps even worse a fate is to be forever branded with such an object of derision as “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

This does not seem to present much of a problem for Camille. With songs like “Cats and Dogs”, or “Gospel with No Lord”—the first single off her new album, Music Hole—her irreverence is considerably more subtle than we might recall of McFerrin’s lucrative but denigrated legacy.

French pop musician CamilleAt least, it seems that way now. It feels strange, indeed, to find myself so taken with a sound at first exposure. The history of such briefly-acquainted infatuations is fraught with disaster. How many cassettes and compact discs lay forgotten in boxes tucked away in garages or storage units, ne’er discarded entirely for some bizarre sentiment despite the fact that they will probably not be heard on our own sound systems ever again?

Nonetheless, Camille has my attention. And while she isn’t touring stateside until at least after the new year, I don’t expect her star to pass like another tumultuous fad. There is more here than a couple of pleasing intervals laid atop an overwrought chord progression and a familiar gleam of polymerized, synthetic emotion. Rather, there is music, real and inspired.

(A tip of the hat to Public Radio International’s The World, just one of many reasons listener-powered radio deserves as much support as we can give it.)