Rescuing shipwrecked bacteria is thirsty work

Thursday, 09 October, 2014

Yeast in beer bottles salvaged from an 1840s shipwreck in Finland is being used to reproduce the 170-year-old brew.

In 2010, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland was commissioned to analyse bottles of beer salvaged from a shipwreck found near the Åland Islands. Living bacteria found in the bottles was tested to determine how the cells had survived for so long in the wreck.

The researchers were able to isolate living lactic acid bacteria from the bottles and are working with Åland-based brewery Stallhagen to recreate the beer. A production process was developed in collaboration with Stallhagen and Belgian university KU Leuven, a frontrunner in yeast and bacteria fermentation.

“We are probably talking about the oldest living non-spore-forming bacteria ever found in beer. The beer-brewing techniques used in the old days typically caused these kinds of bacteria to grow alongside yeast,” explained key account manager Annika Wilhelmson from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

To understand why and how the lactic acid bacteria were able to survive under such extreme conditions, VTT is teaming up with the University of Saskatchewan. The researchers anticipate that the bacterial strains extracted from the bottles could prove useful to the food and beverage industry in the future.

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