Flies WANT beer booze and now we know why - yeast

Boffins: this is a serious bit of research with 'implications' for medicine

Flies love a pint of beer as much as the rest of us, so it transpires, because they are deceived by yeast chemicals that mimic the fragrance of fruit, according to Euro boffins.

As well as transforming sugars to carbon dioxide and alcohol, microbes in yeast produce molecules that attract winged warriors to transport these ‘yeast cells’ to new areas.

But these “volatile compounds” also influence the flavour differences between cool beverages such as beer or wine, far more so than previously thought.

“The importance of yeast in beer brewing has long been underestimated,” said Kevin Versrepen, from VIB, the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology.

“But recent research shows that the choice of a particular yeast strain or variety explains differences in taste between beers and wines. In fact, yeasts may even be responsible for much of the ‘terroir’ - the connection between a particular growing area and wine flavour.”

The study by the VIB, along with the white coat brigade from KU Leuven and NERF shows that the “fruity volatiles” created by yeast allows its to “hitch a ride” on insects to transport the otherwise, er, legless, microbes to new food sources.

The boffins found that deleting ATF1, the yeast gene creating the aroma synthesis, all but “abolishes” the attraction of flies to the mutants, and the brain activity in flies exposed to the aroma mutants is vastly altered.

“Flies are strongly attracted to normal yeast cells, when compared to mutant yeasts that don’t produce esters,” said Emre Yaksi, the neuroboff that led the experiments.

“Knowing esters make beer taste good, it seems that the same flavours that allows us to enjoy beer, probably evolved to attract flies and to help yeast disperse into broader ecosystems.”

Apparently, this research has “far-reaching implications” and is not just a bit of fun or a way to use up funding, the researchers claimed.

“There’s a lot to be learnt about the mutualism between insects and microbes, and some of what we find may have implications in agriculture and medicine,” said Luis Franco from NERF, who performed the fly assays.

“Don’t forget that insects also carry disease-causing microbes,” he added. ®

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