Background: Genetic differences between yeast strains used in wine-making may account for some of the variation seen in their fermentation properties and may also produce differing sensory characteristics in the final wine product itself. To investigate this, we have determined genomic differences among several Saccharomyces cerevisiae wine strains by using a "microarray karyotyping" (also known as "array-CGH" or "aCGH") technique.
Results: We have studied four commonly used commercial wine yeast strains, assaying three independent isolates from each strain. All four wine strains showed common differences with respect to the laboratory S. cerevisiae strain S288C, some of which may be specific to commercial wine yeasts. We observed very little intra-strain variation; i.e., the genomic karyotypes of different commercial isolates of the same strain looked very similar, although an exception to this was seen among the Montrachet isolates. A moderate amount of inter-strain genomic variation between the four wine strains was observed, mostly in the form of depletions or amplifications of single genes; these differences allowed unique identification of each strain. Many of the inter-strain differences appear to be in transporter genes, especially hexose transporters (HXT genes), metal ion sensors/transporters (CUP1, ZRT1, ENA genes), members of the major facilitator superfamily, and in genes involved in drug response (PDR3, SNQ1, QDR1, RDS1, AYT1, YAR068W). We therefore used halo assays to investigate the response of these strains to three different fungicidal drugs (cycloheximide, clotrimazole, sulfomethuron methyl). Strains with fewer copies of the CUP1 loci showed hypersensitivity to sulfomethuron methyl.
Conclusion: Microarray karyotyping is a useful tool for analyzing the genome structures of wine yeasts. Despite only small to moderate variations in gene copy numbers between different wine yeast strains and within different isolates of a given strain, there was enough variation to allow unique identification of strains; additionally, some of the variation correlated with drug sensitivity. The relatively small number of differences seen by microarray karyotyping between the strains suggests that the differences in fermentative and organoleptic properties ascribed to these different strains may arise from a small number of genetic changes, making it possible to test whether the observed differences do indeed confer different sensory properties in the finished wine.