Isolation and characterisation of Sri Lankan yeast germplasm and its evaluation for alcohol production
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Use of inferior yeast cultures represents one of the reasons for low fermentation efficiencies in Sri Lankan alcohol distilleries that use sugarcane molasses. The present study isolated and characterised yeast strains found in natural environments in Sri Lanka and evaluated their performance under laboratory conditions in an effort to select superior strains for industrial fermentations. Yeasts were characterised based on morphological and physiological features such as sugar fermentation and nitrate assimilation. Ethanol production, alcohol tolerance and growth rate of the most promising strains were monitored following laboratory fermentations of molasses. Over a thousand yeast cultures were collected and screened for fermentative activity and a total of 83 yeast isolates were characterised as higher ethanol producers. Most of these belonged to the genus Saccharomyces. Certain strains produced over 10% (v/v) alcohol in molasses media during 72 h laboratory fermentations. Only two strains, SL-SRI-C-102 and 111, showed an appreciable fermentation efficiency of about 90%. The latter strain produced the highest level of ethanol, 11% (v/v) within a 48 h fermentation and exhibited improved alcohol tolerance when compared with the baker's yeast strains currently used in Sri Lankan alcohol distilleries. This study highlights the benefits of exploiting indigenous yeasts for industrial fermentation processes.