Faculty Publications and Presentations

The Transformational Power of Yeasts: One-Celled Creatures That Burst with Life

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Yeast (or at least its products) has been known and loved by human beings since ancient times. Yeasts (Fig. 1) are mentioned in the Bible, and the word leaven is usually used as a symbol of transformation and influence. Yeasts (as leaven) are the clearest reference to a microbe in the Bible and are referred to 39 times. Leaven is associated with fermentation, which is the process of a steady, gradual change of food to another form. The Bible uses yeast as a word picture to illustrate how a small object can highly influence the environment surrounding it, for good and bad. On the positive side, when added to dough, it makes bread (Fig. 2), pizza crust, or cakes rise. Many other good foods also utilize yeast through the fermentation process. Its warm, slightly fruity smell is the result of live cells at work. On the negative side, certain yeasts such as Candida albicans cause disease and “corrupt” the body. This yeast is associated with thrush of the mouth and vagina. In addition, when yeasts are added to beverages, they can produce alcohol and lead to drunkenness.