The Ancient Art (& Science) of Fermentation

Fermentation of alcoholic beverages is one of the oldest human technologies. Fermentation is also an interesting and educational laboratory exercise that can be done with all levels of students. I even do a fermentation lab with my Language Arts and Sciences summer course! The attraction of fermented beverages for college students does not need a lengthy explanation. However, fermentation technologies are at the forefront of the search for sustainable alternative fuels and chemical feedstocks. Ethanol from traditional sources has been used for fuel and chemical solvents for decades. A new generation of ethanol production from non-traditional sources is just beginning to be attempted on an industrial scale. Organisms may be induced or engineered to produce other small molecules besides ethanol. The large-scale production of small molecules from microorganisms is an exciting cutting edge in biotechnology. I have traditionally done this experiment with frozen corn as the carbohydrfermentationate source. In recent years I have expanded the carbohydrate source to (instant) rice and frozen (potatoes). One student even brought in the some quinoa this year. A careful distillation generates a high enough percentage alcohol to ignite. The mash can be tested for the presence of reducing sugars as well as alcohol content.


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