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Science of wine making

28 Aug, 2008

Evolutionary biologist Matthew Goddard explains that wine is the result of evolution and competition between yeasts

Listen to audio: Science of wine making

Duration: 12'14"

People have been making wine for thousands of years using the naturally occurring microbes in the grape juice to do the fermenting. One of these microbes, a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, has caught the attention of evolutionary and ecological biologist Matthew Goddard at the University of Auckland.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae makes up only a small proportion of the mix of yeasts that live on grapes, but it comes to dominate the fermentation process by producing alcohol and heat and thus poisoning its competitors.

Matthew Goddard has teamed up with Kumeu River Winery to monitor the winemaking process and to study how the yeast engineers its environment to gain an advantage. While the idea of environmental engineering, or niche construction, goes back to Charles Darwin, Matthew Goddard's research is the first to quantify the benefits of the strategy.

Get related news story: Yeast survival trick revealed.

Programme details: Our Changing World

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