Serious Brewing, SUNY Cobleskill Work To Uncover Century-Old Yeast Strains

Work is underway on a project SUNY Cobleskill’s Biotechnology Program is spearheading that aims to extract strains of yeast from a 133-year-old bottle of beer recovered from the shipwrecked SS Oregon. The College is collaborating with Serious Brewing Company, of Howes Cave, NY on the project, that commenced Feb. 14 with the uncorking of the beer. Should the College successfully extract yeast, Serious Brewing owner and head brewer Bill Felter intends to develop a new brew using the extracted yeast.

SUNY Cobleskill President Marion A. Terenzio, Vice President for Student Development Dr. Anne Hopkins-Gross, and Drs. Lynda McMaster Schuyler and Peiyu Zeng of the Biotechnology Program joined Felter for Thursday’s uncorking. Three Biotechnology Program seniors, Sabrina Long, Zachary Taylor, and Nino Gagliardi, were able to open the bottle and begin the extraction process. According to Dr. McMaster-Schuyler, the project is estimated to span the Winter 2019 semester.

SUNY Cobleskill biotechnology students have cultivated four strains of yeast in anticipation for the extraction project, which Dr. Zeng says they will compare to any yeast they get from the beer. Molecular analysis will determine how unique the extracted strains are, which will influence the beer Felter hopes to attempt to brew.

“This is applied research at its best,” says President Terenzio of the project. “Our faculty makes it possible for us to do what we do, and for our students to perform research that undergraduates usually do not have an opportunity to perform.”

While similar extractions have yielded successful outcomes in the past, this is SUNY Cobleskill’s first attempt at such a project, and first such collaboration with Serious Brewing. Felter acquired the beer from a customer who owns three bottles of beer, as well as an assortment of artifacts recovered from the Oregon.

The Oregon’s compelling history includes repairs performed by Nikola Tesla, who Thomas Edison hired in the mid-1880s to repair damaged dynamos. On what became the ship’s final voyage, 852 persons set sail from Liverpool, England to New York City. A collision with a schooner occurred near Fire Island, NY on March 14, 1886, sinking the ship.

The Biotechnology Program is now overseeing the project and charting its progress. The ongoing work complements the program’s research with hops, which has received national media attention and remains at the forefront of applied research at SUNY Cobleskill.

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