Here’s the story of a lovely iGEM team...
...who cultured kombucha in the hot Texas summer to learn more about the drink’s microbial makeup. Kombucha, a drink made when a diverse community of yeast and bacteria ferments sweetened tea, has recently exploded in popularity, especially in our hometown of Austin, Texas. Despite the drink’s popularity, not much is known about the population of microbes responsible for giving sweet tea a vinegar-like tang. As students at The University of Texas, we were interested in finding out more about the drink that is rapidly becoming ingrained in our city’s culture. Along the way, we’ve explored ways to improve the drink with synthetic biology.
That’s the way we became the ‘Bucha Bunch!
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea that contains a symbiotic community which is characterized by the relationship between ethanol-producing yeast and bacteria. These different species of bacteria create bacterial cellulose and convert the ethanol produced from yeast, into acetic acid. Due to this unique microbiome, many claims have been made regarding the health benefits that come from drinking this beverage. However, none of these claims have been proven scientifically. Even so, these claims have contributed to the rising popularity of the beverage. The Kombucha Brewers International, a non-profit trade association, has reported a growth of 50% per year in the kombucha industry with no signs of slowing down in the near future.1 We believe that our research can not only add to the field of synthetic biology, but also help grow the kombucha industry through the implementation of scientific rigor to the process of creating kombucha. Our goal is to create a designer beverage with added benefits that come from either the genetic modification of the microbiome present or through naturally altering the population of the microbiome present during the brewing of kombucha. The timeline above outlines the steps taken to achieve our goals. Several of our goals evolved during the course of our project in direct response to our discussions with those in the kombucha industry.