Agave spirits: Using wild yeasts to ferment fructose
University of Adelaide scientists are collaborating with industry to create the first Australian agave spirit. Honours research projects are available in the area of fermentation of wild yeasts.
Agave is a drought-tolerant succulent that is tough enough to grow in semi-arid regions of Australia. It accumulates large stores of sugars as branched fructans often called agavins, in its stem, ready to provide energy for flowering.
In Mexico, the plants are harvested and the sugars extracted and used to make tequila. We are collaborating with an Australian company aiming to make the first Australian agave spirit.
The yeasts normally used to make wine or beer much prefer glucose to fructose and so we would like to find an alternative yeast or other microbe that can efficiently ferment fructose into alcohol.
This project will involve testing different types of commercially available yeasts, fruit spoilage yeasts or other microbes that are predicted to ferment fructose, and quantifying their efficiency.
We will also search for natural or ‘wild’ yeasts present in the environment around agave plants. These yeasts may be able to ferment fructose and even better, simultaneously break down the branched fructans into fructose with their own fructanase enzyme, ready for fermentation.
Part of the project will also examine the effect of potential inhibitors on rates of fermentation - particularly saponins, which are part of the protective waxy coating on the leaves and stem.
Study plant science
In the Burton Lab we work on many different plants, including hemp, sorghum, chia, Plantago and Agave, that we think offer alternatives as crops better able to cope with semi-arid Australian conditions.
We are interested in new sources of nutritious seeds or plant biomass that have human health or industrial applications and are also passionate about using as much of the whole plant as possible, as renewable fuels or materials.