Do Yeasts Survive the Winter in the Guts of Wasps?

From Discover Magazine By


Yeasts are handy little critters: they help produce the alcohol that make wine and beer so deliciously intoxicating. But how they manage to show up on grapes in vineyards year after year, despite freezing winters when there is little for them to eat, is a bit of a mystery. Scientists thought birds could be keeping the yeasts in their guts through the winter, then sprinkling them (ahem) through vineyards in the spring, but turned out the microorganisms couldn’t survive that long in birds.

Now, scientists have identified a much more promising Florida timeshare of a gut: that of the social wasp. Social wasps feed on vineyard grapes, and their queens do survive the winter, emerging from hibernation to found new colonies in the spring. Italian researchers checked the gut microbes of 61 social wasps collected in Tuscany and other wine regions and found that there were scads of yeasts there, 393 strains to be exact. The wasps carried some yeasts that are similar to those found in the area’s wines, suggesting that they may indeed be a significant year-round reservoir of the microorganisms.

Italian wine owes some of its character to local yeasts, scientists have reported before, and this study lends credence to the idea that it’s not possible to separate conservation of local ecosystems and artisanal food production.


While this is certainly an intriguing idea, Saccharomyces cerevisiae can be pretty hardy little buggers on their own without needed to take shelter in the guts of insects. When presented with less than optimal growth conditions yeasts can revert into a semi quiescent survival mode where they build up stores of glycogen and trehalose to strengthen their membranes. Or given really unfavorable conditions yeasts can sporulate and create spores that can easily tolerate a wide range of environmental stresses.

Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology

Thanks to the BBC for bringing this to my attention. Using photo-activatable chromatophores and some clever fusions combined with computational control algorithms this group was able to partially control gene expression in S.cerevisiae yeast. Could be the start of something big.

Link to the paper:
In silico feedback for in vivo regulation of a gene expression circuit

Andreas Milias-Argeitis1, 4 Sean Summers1, 4 Jacob Stewart-Ornstein2, 4 Ignacio Zuleta2 David Pincus2 Hana El-Samad2 Mustafa Khammash3 John Lygeros1


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Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology

Excerpt from Yeast Experiment Hints at a Faster Evolution From Single Cells

By Carl Zimmer

“The transition to multicellular life has long intrigued evolutionary biologists. The cells in our bodies have evolved to cooperate with exquisite precision. The human body has more than 200 types of cells, each dedicated to a different job. And a vast majority of the 100 trillion cells in our bodies sacrifice their own long-term legacy: Only eggs and sperm have a chance to survive our own death.

These demands for cooperation and sacrifice ought to make it hard for single-celled life to become multicellular. Yet animals, plants and other life forms have evolved bodies. “We know that multicellularity has evolved in different lineages at least 25 times in the history of life,” said William Ratcliff, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Ratcliff and his adviser, Michael Travisano, are experts in experimental evolution…

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Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology

Here is a great resource for you! A massive glossary of viticulture and enology terms hosted by eViticulture.

Whether you are an enophile, a plant nerd, or just a casual wine drinker there are definitions on here that will increase your depth of understanding, and maybe even lead to some better questions next time you go wine tasting!

Here are some examples from the glossary:

Bilateral cordon: Extensions of the trunk in the form of two permanent horizontal branches each supported by a wire, extending in opposite directions and from which fruiting positions originate. Examples are high cordon, with downward shoot orientation, and low cordon, with vertical shoot positioning.

Botrytis: Botrytis bunch rot or gray mold is a fungal disease that infects fruits and occasionally shoots and leaves; caused by Botrytis cinerea. The benevolent form is known as “noble rot” and is responsible for some of the…

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