Roland Berger consultant sees his PhD dissertation lauded

05 June 2020 3 min. read

Arthur Gorter de Vries, a consultant at Roland Berger in Amsterdam, has been awarded a prize for the outstanding quality of his PhD dissertation. 

Every year the Royal Dutch Society for Microbiology (KNVM) and the Dutch Society for Medical Microbiology (NVMM) explore PhD dissertations that have made an academic and practical contribution to the world of biology. The institutions then hand out three awards for the top papers offering breakthrough insights, in the categories ‘general microbiology’, ‘medical microbiology’ and ‘microbial ecology’. 

The trio of prizes are known in the Netherlands as the Westerdijk awards, named after Johanna Westerdijk, who in 1917 was appointed the first female professor in the Netherlands. She was a biologist by background and made a large contribution to scientific advancement in the field, among others showing that the elm disease was caused by the fungus Ceratocystis ulmi. 

In the category ‘general microbiology’, the award was handed to Arthur Gorter de Vries, who last month celebrated his 1-year milestone at strategy consulting firm Roland Berger, where he started his career after graduating from TU Delft. “I am honoured and thankful for my work to be acknowledged so distinctively,” he said of the recognition. 

Arthur Gorter de Vries

“In particular I would like thank Jack Pronk, Jean-Marc Daran and the numerous colleagues I had the pleasure to work with and the students I had the honour of supervising.”

During his studies, Gorter de Vries already made the headlines for jointly uncovering that all pilsner yeasts, the famous microorganisms that brewers produce hundreds of billions of litres of lager and other lager beers with every year, were created some 500 years ago in a one-off encounter between two types of yeast.

An abstract of Arthur Gorter de Vries’ PhD dissertation:

Lager beer, also referred to as Pilsner, is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world, with an annual consumption of almost 200 billion litres per year. To make lager beer, brewer’s wort is fermented with the yeast Saccharomyces pastorianus. This microorganism converts wort sugars into ethanol and contributes key flavour compounds to the beer.

S.pastorianus is an interspecific hybrid which likely formed about 500 years ago by spontaneous mating between an ale-brewing S. cerevisiae strain and a wild S. eubayanus contaminant. The genome of lager brewing yeast is exceptionally complex: not only does it contain chromosomes from the two parental species, but these have also undergone extensive recombination and are present in varying copy numbers, a situation referred to as aneuploidy.

The S. eubayanus ancestor was only discovered in 2011, enabling an improved understanding of the complex genomeand convoluted evolutionary ancestry of S.pastorianus. Furthermore, recent advances in whole-genome sequencing technology and in gene editing tools have simplified the genetic accessibility and amenability of Saccharomycesyeast genomes.

The aim of the thesis was to leverage these advances to investigate how the genetic complexity of current S.pastorianus strains emerged and how it contributes to industrial lager brewing performance, and to develop new methods for strain improvement of brewing yeasts.