INSIDE Chico State
0 March 9, 2000
Volume 30 Number 15
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Microbiologist Beattie Watches the Mold Grow

Sam Beattie examines hops he is using in a study funded by Sierra Nevada Brewery. (photo BA)
Sam Beattie examines hops he is using in a study funded by Sierra Nevada Brewery. (photo BA)

Sam Beattie, a food microbiologist, is having fun: "I do research on things that I'm interested in and find fun."

He especially enjoys molds. Why molds? "You can't see bacteria, but you can see molds. Kind of neat to be able to see what you're working on, and molds are incredibly diverse organisms." Molds are interesting, visible, and affect the world's food supply.

Beattie, Nutrition and Food Sciences Program in Biological Sciences, has research projects: three mold studies, a beer aroma and hops aging study, and a forest soils' microbiology study.

Molds that occur on wheat and malting barley are the subject of three of the projects. Two tilletia species affect wheat kernels. In tilletia-infested wheat, the kernels look normal from the outside, but the kernel is completely replaced by mold spores.

Beattie and his graduate students are "looking at the biochemistry of the ways that these mold spores germinate." They have two closely related tilletia species with different germination characteristics, and are trying to understand the biochemistry of these differences.

In a related project, they are examining the growth of tilletia spores, specifically analyzing the lipid components.

While working at North Dakota State University, Fargo Beattie participated in a research project on fusarium head blight, a mold-producing disease that affects malting barley in the field. Fusarium is responsible for "a mold toxin that's produced in the barley that's not harmful to humans but is bad public relations," Beattie said. The mold is also problematic for beer brewers. Beattie explained, "The mold produces some sort of metabolite in the barley that causes spontaneous foaming of beer, called gushing." A bottle of beer made from fusarium-infested barley malt, turned over only once or twice, but not agitated, will gush out of the bottle in a geyser of foam. Beattie brought the fusarium project with him and is looking at ways to decrease the growth of mold during the malting process using some naturally occurring compounds.

Beer, when studied rather than consumed, fascinates Beattie. "From a food science standpoint, it is an incredible illustrative tool because the conversion of the raw barley into the finished product, a beer, is a science."

Sierra Nevada Brewery provided grant funding to develop aroma profiles and explore the effects of aging hops on aroma.

The addition of aroma hops in the brewing process develops beer's distinctive aroma. Because hops are harvested only once a year, the effects of aging on hops and the subsequent effect on beer aroma is important to brewers. Beattie and his major collaborator, Larry Kirk, Chemistry, and their students are looking at the effects of time on the aroma.

They are testing Sierra Nevada beer at several stages of brewing, from the unfermented beer, or wort, in the brew kettle through each successive step to bottling and storage. The researchers are examining the effect of each stage on the aroma profile. They will do this throughout the year, giving them aroma profiles for varying ages of hops. Although the idea of aroma profiles suggests sensitive-nosed scientists sniffing glasses of beer, the reality is gas chromatography. The instrumental analysis produces an objective measure of twenty-two individual components that make up the categories under study.

In another project, Beattie and Kirk are part of a nationwide study of forest management practices. Beattie and Kirk's research looks at phospholipids, a component of soil microorganisms. Beattie said, "We're looking at how application of a forest management practice -- clear cutting, controlled burns, clear cutting followed by bulldozing or heavy tractor -- impacts upon the soil microflora and how that affects the sustainability of the forest." Beattie pointed out that their study is only a tiny part of the evaluation of forest management practices, but that the entire study, done by a variety of researchers throughout the country, will have far-reaching consequences for the management of national forests.

The release time Beattie received to pursue research "has made a dramatic difference in what I'm doing. If I had to teach a full load, there would be no way I'd have four or five projects going at one time. It's fun. Certainly holds your interest. As I told the students the other day, Špush your fingers together as tightly as you can, like this." Beattie demonstrated by squeezing his finger and thumb together. "Your life is the distance between the two, and if anything you're doing in that short period of time is not fun, or is chronically not fun, change it." -- BA


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