Our relationship with yeast is like a college friendship that grew beyond keggers and into distinguished adulthood. We’ve partied with our eukaryotic wingmen dating back to at least 7000 B.C., using them in foods and head-spinning libations. In 1680, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, godfather of microscopy, gazed upon yeast for the first time; that’s when we started moving past the party years.
We still throw down with yeast, but we’ve grown up and have jobs now. These days, the fungus is a laboratory champion, an engine of industry. It underpins Nobel Prize-winning breakthroughs and churns out biofuels and novel medicines. Indeed, yeast may someday save our lives.