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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Feb;78(3):735-43. doi: 10.1128/AEM.06518-11. Epub 2011 Nov 18.

Characterization, ecological distribution, and population dynamics of Saccharomyces sensu stricto killer yeasts in the spontaneous grape must fermentations of southwestern Spain.

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Departamento de Ciencias Biomédicas (Área de Microbiología), Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Extremadura, Badajoz, Spain.


Killer yeasts secrete protein toxins that are lethal to sensitive strains of the same or related yeast species. Among the four types of Saccharomyces killer yeasts already described (K1, K2, K28, and Klus), we found K2 and Klus killer yeasts in spontaneous wine fermentations from southwestern Spain. Both phenotypes were encoded by medium-size double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) viruses, Saccharomyces cerevisiae virus (ScV)-M2 and ScV-Mlus, whose genome sizes ranged from 1.3 to 1.75 kb and from 2.1 to 2.3 kb, respectively. The K2 yeasts were found in all the wine-producing subareas for all the vintages analyzed, while the Klus yeasts were found in the warmer subareas and mostly in the warmer ripening/harvest seasons. The middle-size isotypes of the M2 dsRNA were the most frequent among K2 yeasts, probably because they encoded the most intense K2 killer phenotype. However, the smallest isotype of the Mlus dsRNA was the most frequent for Klus yeasts, although it encoded the least intense Klus killer phenotype. The killer yeasts were present in most (59.5%) spontaneous fermentations. Most were K2, with Klus being the minority. The proportion of killer yeasts increased during fermentation, while the proportion of sensitive yeasts decreased. The fermentation speed, malic acid, and wine organoleptic quality decreased in those fermentations where the killer yeasts replaced at least 15% of a dominant population of sensitive yeasts, while volatile acidity and lactic acid increased, and the amount of bacteria in the tumultuous and the end fermentation stages also increased in an unusual way.

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