CONICET researchers will work with world leader beer market company
As part of a Research and Development agreement, scientists will develop new brewer yeast for HEINEKEN.
CONICET signed an R+D agreement with the world leader beer market company, HEINEKEN.

A new technology transference case generated by CONICET researchers represents a landmark in the history of the Council. It is about a licence of a yeast strain of the species called Saccharomyces eubayanus, described in Patagonia. The licence, which includes an R+D agreement with Heineken Supply Chain, will promote new joint technological developments and strengthen the capacities of the research team.

The presentation of the project took place on November 11th and was attended by the president of the Council, Roberto Salvarezza, and the Product & Process Research Manager at Heineken, Jan-Maarten Geertman. Other authorities who participated in the meeting were: the vicepresident of the Administration Board of National Parks, Daniel Ramos; representatives of the Universidad Nacional del Comahue (UNComa), like its vice-chancellor, Gustavo Víctor Crisafulli, the Science and Technology Secretary, Enrique Mases, and the Delegate and Proxy for the city of Buenos Aires, Julio Lucatini. The officials of the Council who attended the presentation were the vice-president of Technological Affairs, Miguel Laborde and members of the Technology Transfer Office.

“This represents a cooperation model to do science; it is an excellent example to prove that we are not limited to public affairs, and we do not close our doors to the world, we aim to integrate and find international partners. Being able to show that this type of knowledge produced in our laboratories can be transferred is an adequate political justification for investment in science when not all the world is able to make it”, Salvarezza stated while he congratulated the parties on the agreement.

One of the researchers who participated in the discovery of this new yeast was Diego Libkind Frati, CONICET independent researcher at the Institute for Research on Biodiversity and the Environment (INIBIOMA, CONICET- UNComa) in the city of San Carlos de Bariloche. The yeast was found in the fruit of the Cyttaria hariotii (fungi), also called “Llao-Llao” or “Pan de Indio”, which inhabits the native Patagonian forests as the ones that are conserves the Nahuel Huapi National Park. This new species of yeast represents one of the parent yeast that gave birth to the lager one, which is used to generate that type of beer and is vital for the beer industry as it is needed to produce around 90 per cent worldwide.

With this R+D agreement, all craft breweries in Argentina that have lower annual production to 40 thousand hectolitres will be allowed to use licensed strains for the development of products, a fact that was highlighted by Juan Soria, Technology Transfer Office Director at the CONICET. “We are working with a market leader company that ranks second in worldwide production and it also allows us to work with craft beer producers that in the city of Bariloche and its surroundings are approximately fifty.” Soria also commented that this project, which will be implemented in three years, will strengthen the capacities of the laboratory led by Libkind, like the yeast bank, and new important technologies will be developed for the productive sector.

For his part, Libkind provided a detailed presentation of the study he has conducted with his team at the Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology Laboratory of the IBIOMA and explained to the attendees step by step how the technological development was transferred. “This is the result of a long process that began in 2011 when we published a study in a very prestigious American scientific journal, and from that moment on, an unexpected cycle we called ‘beer effect’ was triggered”, Libkind explained.

“At first, we had no idea of the impact this was going to have. Soon we were called by companies to produce the beer with the new yeast and when the press learnt about it, they also contacted us. That was how we began to create the conditions to obtain a transferable microorganism”, the scientist explains. This process involved the contact between the research team and craft beer producers in order to detect technological needs of the sector. “We noticed that we were in the right place because Bariloche is a homemade beer centre, at the right time, and with the right yeast”, the scientist states.

It is worth mentioning that this local yeast is wild; it is not “domesticated” like the ones normally used to produce beer. For this reason, the researcher comments that the interaction between the locals and a company that has the experience of HEINEKEN, is going to cause the enhancement of its properties by making Argentine craft microbreweries adopt and implement the yeast in the short term.

For HEINEKEN, it is not a minor event to work with the combination of three stage agencies: the CONICET, the UNComa and the National Parks Administration (APN in Spanish). Jan-Maarten Geertman, highlighted this combination, the unique possibility of having an important worldwide species of yeast in Patagonia, and the specialized human resources to develop it. Geertman said “working with Diego Libkind’s team, has been auspicious. This agreement allows us to have the possibility of offering new experiences for our consumers as well as strengthening the laboratory conducted by Libkind, therefore the team that works with him and it will also promote the consolidation of local yeast bank to be preserved in the best way.”

This fact is characterized by several aspects that make it emblematic. It has been proved, once more, that the public-private association is possible and it works. Science managed to go beyond the laboratory with the help of a global partner by integrating a sector such as the craft brewing centre of Bariloche and by generating better conditions so as to make advanced science promote development.