Mills Sequences Oenococcus Oeni
Dr. David Mills is one of eleven researchers from across the United States assembled into a working unit termed the “Lactic Acid Bacteria Genome Consortium”, or LABGC. The mission of the LABGC is to forward functional genomic studies on lactic acid bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria is the general term for bacteria producing lactic acid as an end product of fermentation. The consortium is studying eleven microbial strains that are associated with fermented food, beverages, and probiotics industries in the USA. Mills and his lab are studying Oenococcus oeni, the organism commonly used in wine production for converting malic acid into lactic acid. As a principal investigator, Mills is responsible for gap closure and publishing of the genome sequence.
“At present, all eleven genomes are finished,” stated Mills. “The sequence of O. Oeni has revealed several interesting aspects that relate to its unusual phylogenetic position as well as its relationship to wine.”
Learning more about the natural evolutionary relationships of these microorganisms will have far reaching effects in industries beyond the wine industry; but the significance to the wine industry is enormous. Winemakers will have a more defined selection of malolactic starter cultures and a more detailed view of how the cultures influence the winemaking process. It is hoped that regional differences can be mapped from genotypes that have risen from geographical winemaking regions; for instance, the O. oeni from Bordeaux and the O. oeni from Napa Valley can be mapped, and their impact on the regional wines better understood.
“This will also enhance our ability to identify spoilage-causing strains that emerge during fermentation,” continued Mills. “Being able to identify genetic links to spoilage factors, and then intervene before they contaminate the wine would be huge for this industry.”
The work of the Mills lab and the others involved in the LABGC project has ushered in a new era of genetic studies. Their work is critical to the food industry, having impact on everything from pickles to yogurt. This milestone is sure to have universal impact on global markets. It is apparent that the most exciting work is still ahead; Mills and his team of workers cannot wait for what the future has in store for them.