Cell biology and Biotechnology

Biotechnology of industrial and artisan fermentations. Competitivity factors in microbial communities and their application.

Dr Andrés Garzón Villar
Researcher associated to Dr Juan Jiménez Martínez

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No natural environment is free of life, at least in the form of micro-organisms. Micro-organisms colonize environments in the form of complex communities and within these communities there is competition but also cooperation, establishing delicate balances that are often highly dynamic and responsive to perturbations in the environment. Obvious examples are the communities of micro-organisms in soils and their influence on fertility and ecosystem services, the importance of microbiota resident in our bodies for human health, etc. Spontaneous fermentations have accompanied the human species since the beginning of civilization, have been adopted as a method of preservation and are historically the basis for the production of foods such as bread, wine, beer, yoghurt, pickles.... Although today many of these processes have been industrialized and work in microbiologically controlled environments, others, such as wine and bread, are still produced through spontaneous fermentation. Understanding the competitive processes is very important to advance in the control of the processes and to bring biotechnological value to this sector of such economic importance in Spain.

Our group focuses on the study of fermentative yeasts and specifically on wine yeasts. We analyze the inter- and intraspecific interactions both in the vineyard environment and in the winery, focusing on the determinants that make a yeast competitive with other competitors. In particular, we focus on the ability to produce a toxin called "killer factor". This toxin is encoded by an RNA2c virus which, when infecting the yeast, confers this characteristic. Because of the importance of this factor in terms of competitiveness in microbial communities, the biological and ecological characterization of this element, in 3D communities and in biofilms in sherry wines, constitutes our main line of basic research in our group.  

In addition, we conduct lines of applied research in collaboration with wineries and, recently, with artisan bakeries and commercial mushroom farming companies. These collaborations are aimed at transferring the knowledge acquired in the handling and characterization of yeasts and other fungi of industrial interest to the company's production process. Examples of these projects are the isolation and characterization of autochthonous wine yeasts as starters in wine fermentation, isolation and characterization of autochthonous flower yeasts for the biological ageing of fine wines and the replacement of the flor veil biofilm in decay, analysis of the microbiological composition and stability of sourdoughs in artisan bakeries, etc.

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