What is the terroir of synthetic yeast?

Erika Szymanski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Humans and yeast have a long history of productive collaboration in making a global array of fermented foodstuffs including wine, bread, and beer. Synthetic biology is now changing the shape of human-yeast work. The Sc2.0 or “synthetic yeast” project aims to completely re-engineer the Saccharomyces cerevisiae genome, designing an organism with improved capacities for scientific research and diverse industrial applications. Notably, synthetic yeast has present connections with the wine industry and likely futures in our wider foodscapes. Here I suggest that we imagine this scientific object, synthetic yeast, as an incipient cultural object by asking: what is the terroir of synthetic yeast? Terroir invokes tangled relationships amongst the many variably human and non-human, living and non-living participants in a landscape. Terroir re-places synthetic yeast in its context of production, against scientific narratives which work to create utopian, placeless organisms. Terroir is moreover a world-building tool, not about discovering and describing a place, but about constructing and connecting to one. Inquiring about terroir therefore suggests that rather than asking how far humans should go in manipulating nature, we instead ask how humans can continue to cultivate the relationships which constitute our humanity and sustain our environments. Fundamentally, I suggest that the best futures for synthetic yeast are those that connect rather than estrange; in other words, that we continue to value terroir in imagining how synthetic yeast satisfies the more-than-caloric needs of future appetites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-62
JournalEnvironmental Humanities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • synthetic biology
  • yeast
  • terroir
  • fermentation studies
  • multispecies studies


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