A Canadian PhD student from the University of Saskatchewan has a mission: saving beer from bacterial contamination. She's a member of 'one of only two labs in the world that studies beer spoilage.' And she jokes about what she's doing: 'It's a good conversation starter. I've gone through so many years of school and I've studied medical microbiology and all this and that -- and now I'm saving beer. (People) tease me about it, but they actually find it quite interesting.' But what she does is no joke, and her research has been sponsored by breweries such as Coors or Miller. ...
You can see above a photo of PhD candidate Monique Haakensen, the beer saviour. (Credit: Mark Ferguson, University of Saskatchewan) Here is a link to a larger version of this picture.
You'll find more details about Haakensen on her personal website and on her faculty page. She's working in the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine group led by Professor Barry Ziola at the University of Saskatchewan.
So how Haakensen is saving beer? She "has helped discover three new methods of detecting beer-spoiling bacteria, including a DNA-based technique, that has big breweries around the globe hoisting pints in celebration. Breweries usually have to keep batches of beer for two to three months to make sure they haven't spoiled before cases are shipped out on trucks to liquor stores, says Haakensen. 'What we've done here is, by using DNA methods, we can actually figure out in a matter of one to two days if that beer will spoil,' Haakensen says."
And how did she discover these new bacteria? "The new types of bacteria were found with the unwitting help of her younger brothers a couple years ago while they were also attending the University of Saskatchewan. Too cheap to buy their own beer, the boys made some home brew and offered her a glass. The beer, smelling like cheese with sludge on the bottom, was too disgusting to drink, Haakensen says. 'So I stole a bunch of bottles of their beer and brought it back here -- [in her lab.]'"
In a profile written by Brette Ehalt for On Campus News (OCN), of the University of Saskatchewan, published on November 14, 2008 a profile of Monique Haakensen, "Saving beer from bacterial contamination," written by Brette Ehalt, which contains additional details and the photo used above in this post.
Here is a short quote about her work. "So far, she has discovered at least three new methods of detecting beer-spoilage bacteria using polymerase chain reaction, a method of directed DNA amplification; two new genes possibly involved in beer-spoilage; and, thanks to her brothers, three new groups of bacteria that are capable of spoiling beer. 'Back in 2006, my three brothers made homemade beer. But the beer turned out so disgusting and contaminated that I decided to bring some to the lab. I grew the contaminating bacteria from the beer, and sequenced some of their DNA. I found three types of bacteria that have never been found in beer before, and identified a specific beer-spoilage or antimicrobial resistance gene in each type.'"
If you still think that making research about beer is just plain fun, please take a look at the list of Monique Haakensen's recently published papers. For example, here are two references to articles published in 2008.
- Identification of novel horA-harbouring bacteria capable of spoiling beer> (Published in the Canadian Journal of Microbiology, PDF format, 5 pages, 479 KB)
- Multiplex PCR for Putative Lactobacillus and Pediococcus Beer-Spoilage Genes and Ability of Gene Presence to Predict Growth in Beer (Published in the Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, PDF format, 8 pages, 133 KB)
After reading these papers, you'll see they're serious. And that Haakensen might become one of the 21th century stars of the brewing world.
Sources: Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press, December 27, 2008; and various websites
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