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Microbial ecology and the New Zealand wine industry

Thursday 14 June 2018, 1.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr Sarah Knight, The University of Auckland, New Zealand

We are becoming increasingly aware that microbes are vital to the health and resilience of ecosystems, both indigenous and economically managed. To further our understanding of how these communities function and interact with the surrounding environment, it is necessary to identify and quantify them.

I will begin by outlining recent research conducted alongside the New Zealand wine industry where microbes are important both in the vineyard itself, influencing vine and fruit health, and during fermentation whereby a diversity of yeast species and strains transform grape juice to wine, each contributing unique flavours and aromas. The diversity of flavours and aromas varies not only by grape variety but also by geographic origin, intriguing and engaging consumers and adding to the wines value. Microbes are not traditionally considered a part of these geographic differences despite being essential to the wine making process. Focusing on the dominant fermenting yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, we genetically characterised the New Zealand population associated with Sauvignon Blanc vines and wines. Across different geographic regions we unveiled a complex pattern of differentiation mixed with varying levels of migration and we experimentally show these regional populations differentially affect wine chemical profiles. These results reinforce the need to better understand what forces shape microbial communities in our vineyards not just to ensure their sustainable management and vineyard longevity, but also to enhance wines local identity.

This brings me to why I’m here at the University of York. During my eight weeks here we aim to develop rapid methods using a newly emerging and exciting DNA sequencing technology, Oxford Nanopore MinION, to describe microbial communities from viticultural samples. The low start-up cost and rapid, high-volume data output makes this technology ideal, and has many applications for both fundamental microbial ecology questions and industry outcomes.

Location: K018