Duvel Moortgat opens scientific pilot brewery and presents BSSH Awards to Sir Paul Nurse, 2001 Nobel Laureate

7 June 2019
On June 7th 2019, Duvel Moortgat and KU Leuven host the Brewing Science Serves Health (BSSH) awards along with the opening of a new pilot brewery and research laboratory. 

Beyond their obvious use in beer brewing, beer yeasts are also scientific model organisms that are used to study a wide variety of scientific processes. The reason for their extensive use in scientific research is that they are relatively easy to study while they resemble cells from complex organisms, including humans, more than bacteria. In fact, several Nobel prizes in medicine or physiology have been awarded to researchers studying cell processes in yeast. To laud researchers who use beer yeast as key organism in breakthrough scientific discoveries, the KU Leuven BSSH Fund – started by Bernard Van den Bogaert and backed by Duvel-Moortgat – hosts the 2019 BSSH awards, one of which is aimed at senior researchers, and one for junior scientists. 

The BSSH Fund aims to raise proceeds to stimulate, support, and promote research existing at the interface between brewing science and basic biology.

The 2019 BSSH senior award goes to 2001 Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse (Director of the Francis Crick Institute, London, UK). Using an African beer yeast, he and his team have made striking contributions to our understanding of the biological mechanisms that control cell division. They specifically elucidated the function of so-called ‘checkpoints’ during the cell cycle that prevent uncontrolled cell division. These findings have implications in conditions characterized by cell division abnormalities, with cancer as prime example. 

Dr. Morgane Boone, former PhD student in the lab of Nico Callewaert (VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology), now at the University of California, San Francisco (US) receives the 2019 junior award. Her work focuses on the optimization of protein production in brewer’s yeast via computer models. In doing so, she has spurred the use and development of yeast cells as miniature fabrication tools for a green and sustainable industry, as well as for the production of potentially therapeutic proteins such as insulin.

To further stimulate the use of brewer’s yeast in scientific research, Duvel Moortgat will officially open a new pilot brewery with associated laboratory facilities to pursue internal, more directly applied scientific research. Examples of projects that will be pursued in this professional ‘miniature brewery’ are the improvement of current brewing processes and development of new beer recipes.

“Beer yeast is really an underestimated model organism” says prof. Kevin Verstrepen, director of the BSSH Fund.  “Much of our understanding of how human cells work comes from yeast research, with more than 10 recent Nobel prizes being awarded to yeast researchers.  The BSSH fund’s mission is to stimulate this research on the interface of beer technology and basic biology, and bring it to the public”.

Prof. Nico Callewaert confirms: “The secretion system in yeast is very similar to the one of human cells, it is an excellent model once again. By using machine learning on Dr Boone’s massive data on protein secretion, we can better predict which proteins can be secreted and which ones not. Scientifically, this is a new approach. It also has practical relevance, as many pharmaceuticals and industrial enzymes are secreted proteins for which yeast is an excellent production system.”

Paul Nurse
© KU Leuven-Rob Stevens​

Morgane Boone​