St. Patrick’s Day: Biotech and Beer!

Biofuels & Climate Change

Every year on March 17, “the Irish and the Irish-at-heart across the globe observe St. Patrick’s Day. What began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland has become an international festival celebrating Irish culture with parades, dancing, special foods and a whole lot of green.”

…And when they say a whole lot of green, they also mean green beer!

According to the National Retail Federation, around “37 million Americans will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at a bar or restaurant…Another 24 million people in the U.S. will attend a private party to celebrate the occasion, while 104 million Americans say they will wear green.”

In 2015, WalletHub reported “13 million pints of Guinness beer were consumed on St. Patrick’s Day.” 

Even though a lot of alcohol is consumed during this holiday, most are unaware how it is made. Alcohol production, in fact, is one of the most basic applications of industrial biotechnology.

Beer is made from water, a starch source such as barley, brewer’s yeast and a flavoring such as hops. The starch in the barley must be converted to sugar by enzymes (which are activated when the barley is malted) then fermented (the brewer’s yeast metabolizes the sugars to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide). Enzymes and microbes are two common tools used in industrial biotechnology.

You may be asking yourself: if biotech can help produce beer, can it improve it as well? The answer is yes. For instance, one research company, Leavandary, produces designer yeast for craft brewers. Leavendary, located in Huntsville, Alabama, modified one of its strains to create green beer as a demonstration project for St. Patrick’s Day. The biotech industry came up with a solution for providing green beer without the use of green dye #3.

So while you are out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, dressed all in green, remember to toast industrial biotechnology and know that without science we may not have beer.

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