Could Fruit Flies Help Create Tasty New Beer? Scientists Think So

Octoberfest is in full swing in many communities, so beer can be found flowing freely throughout the night. However, you may also find that pesky fruit flies are also attracted to the aroma of beer. Until recently, it was a mystery as to why fruit flies seemed so attracted to the yeasty aroma of beer. However, a recent study puts an end to the mystery and even considers the possibility of brewers utilizing the pesky little bugs to help create even better beer for human consumption.

The Eastern Tribune reports that scientists have learned that the relationship of fruit flies and beer stem from the beer yeast used to produce the beverage. The beer yeast produces a chemical aroma that is similar to the scent of fruit that attracts fruit flies. However, the yeast cells aren’t just giving off the scent for no good reason. In fact, the study showed the yeast uses the flies to spread itself between locations.

The relationship goes like this. The yeast produces a nice fruity smell to attract fruit flies, the fruit flies eat the yeast to get protein, the yeast attaches itself to the fruit flies and is dispersed as the flies travel. This shows that a mutually beneficial relationship between the two exists.

According to American LiveWire, the entire relationship hinges on the smell of natural yeast. When scientists made non-fruity mutant yeast, the flies were uninterested. However, the more volatile compounds present that give beer a pungent smell, the more the fruit flies were attracted to that particular brew. The ability for fruit flies to sniff out the most pungent of yeasts could also be used by brewers.

A new trend among beer-makers called “wild fermentation” lets microbes spontaneously colonize the batch to achieve a more local flavor, and bioengineer Kevin Verstrepen’s research proves that flies could also be used to select yeast strains naturally. Verstrepen says he’s also considered using fruit flies, rather than machines, to select better yeast strains for brewers. Ultimately, it would be up to the flavor that the brewer was after. Note that Verstrepen said the notion to utilize the flies in this method is typically considered after having a few beers himself, but he does think the method would be unique. Maybe the new beer could be sent via the Belgian Beer Pipeline?

The research is new, but Verstrepen says that the mutually beneficial relationship between flies and yeast may have been around for millions of years. In fact, the aroma attraction method may be the way other microbes attract a carrier, such as a fruit fly, to disperse their cells across an area.

Fruit flies may, in fact, be the most experienced of beer connoisseurs, considering they have been up to this for thousands if not millions of years. What do you think? Would you trust a fruit fly to pick out your brewer’s yeast?