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Last update: May 2021

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PEAKYEAST: Moving the wine yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae up its adaptive peak in grape must

Sustaining a growing population while preserving nature is challenging, especially in an increasingly unpredictable climate. In this context, high production levels of fine wine will require innovations. Such breakthroughs are likely to arise from experimenting with the grape must’s microbial community that determine many wine characteristics. We propose to study the evolutionary genetics of the main wine yeast, S. cerevisiae, in its microbial community.

Main objectives

Many eukaryotes have been intensively exposed to man made environments but it is still unclear how well adapt they are to domesticated environments. Using Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model species, we will apply experimental evolution approach to study the impact of standing genetic variation and HGT on adaptation to a real human made environment, grape must.

  • Goal 1 – Towards microbial experimental evolution in ecological realistic conditions. Most evolutionary processes are tied to ecological conditions, and consequently experimental evolution should be performed under ecologically realistic conditions. Goal 1 is to carry out evolutionary experiments in a natural organism-environment setting, that is, wine yeasts in grape must.
  • Goal 2 – Releasing the limits of adaptation to grape must by supplying new genetic variation to wine yeast populations. Wine S. cerevisiae strains have many of the hallmarks of domesticated species, and therefore it is pertinent to estimate how much their fitness has been hampered by their evolutionary history. We will use recombinant populations of S. cerevisiae with different amount of standing genetic variation, will be used in a selection experiment in grape must.
  • Goal 3 – Deconstructing the evolutionary effects of a natural microbial community on S. cerevisiae. S. cerevisiae dominates wine fermentation, but some microorganisms remain abundant throughout the fermentation process, impacting S. cerevisiae physiology. We will study the effect of these species on the S. cerevisiae genetic and phenotypic evolution.
  • Goal 4 –Analysing horizontal gene transfer (HGT) and its role in adaptation to grape must. Little is known from the contribution of HGT to the adaptation of eukaryotes in their ecological niche. This will be studied by analysing the genome of different species strains co-occuring in natural must and by creating artificial HGT from non-Saccharomyces species into S. cerevisiae.
Leader of project : Jean-Luc Legras (

INRA - Centre de Jouy en Josas Institut MICALIS Equipe BIMLip
INRA - Centre de Rennes UMR Science et Technologie du Lait et de l'OEuf