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Jungle yeast

May 2009

A new species of yeast has been discovered deep in the Amazon jungle. In a paper published on-line in FEMS Yeast Research, IFR scientists and colleagues from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador describe the novel characteristics of Candida carvajalis sp. nov.

Yeasts have long been the powerhouses of our food and fermentation industries. Each new species adds to our knowledge of the yeast gene pool and even small genetic differences have the potential for major economic impact. Furthermore, as oil reserves diminish, the race is on to find novel varieties for use in sustainable biofuel production.

Dr Steve James said “It’s a race against time. We know that massive loss of species diversity is occurring worldwide. Our colleagues in Ecuador appreciate the importance of collecting, characterising and subsequently preserving what remains.”

Javier Carvajal, head of the Ecuadorian team, whose father Enrique discovered the yeast while oil prospecting and in whose honour the new species is named, said: “The four different climatic regions of Ecuador and fermentations performed by ancient indigenous populations make Ecuador a promising country in which to find novel yeast species”.

Enrique Carvajal is not a biologist but an attorney. As a home brewer, he understands the importance of yeasts to fermentation processes. He recovered isolates of the new yeast species from rotten wood and fallen leaf debris samples collected near the town of Dayuma, in Orellana province, in the central Amazonian region of Ecuador.

Dr Ian Roberts, Curator of NCYC said “Our collaboration with the team in Ecuador is of inestimable value. Together we aim to ensure that irreplaceable biodiversity is preserved and available to support innovation in food, beverage, and healthcare. It is already clear that our joint collection will become increasingly valuable to chemical engineers seeking novel yeast properties to confer advantages both in second generation biofuel production and in a range of other industrial fermentations ”.

NCYC doesn’t actually develop strains of yeast for the food market, but instead it provides the raw materials and information for others to do so.   NCYC plays an important role in preserving and cataloguing a vast array of different yeast species, many of which may have novel properties of general importance.  The properties of the Ecuadorean yeast make it likely that any practical use would be more directed towards biofuel production, but within the collection curated by NCYC are many strains of  yeasts, all with slightly different properties that act as a resource for bakers, brewers and the food industry.

IFR Press Office:
Zoe Dunford, Tel: 01603 255111, email:
Andrew Chapple, Tel: 01603 251490, email:

Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador:
Javier Carvajal, PhDc.
Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
Escuela de Ciencias Biológicas
Centro Neotropical para Investigación de la Biomasa
Colección de Levaduras Quito Católica
Av. 12 de Octubre 1076 y Roca
Casilla Postal 17-01-2184

Notes to editors:
Full reference: “Candida carvajalis sp. nov., a novel anamorphic, ascomycetous yeast species from the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle. FEMS Yeast Research” FEMS Yeast Research, DOI:10.1111/j.1567-1364.2009.00518.x

Yeast production is a multi-billion dollar industry for brewing, baking, biofuel production, probiotics, and medical applications. The new species described in this study is publicly available alongside several thousand other yeasts at The collection is supported at the IFR by the BBSRC and seeks to make yeast strains and knowledge available to industrial and academic scientists in an equitable and efficient manner. 

The mission of the Institute of Food Research ( is to undertake international quality scientific research relevant to food and human health and to work in partnership with others to provide underpinning science for consumers, policy makers, the food industry and academia. It is a company limited by guarantee, with charitable status, grant aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (

Javier Carvajal collecting yeast
Javier Carvajal collecting yeast samples in Ecuador

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