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Student finishing beer PhD

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SASKATOON—Monique Haakensen is not just another university student who claims to have spent her academic years occupied by beer.

The 26-year-old is actually completing her PhD in pathology and laboratory medicine by researching the sudsy beverage at the University of Saskatchewan—home to one of only two labs in the world that studies beer spoilage.

“It’s a good conversation starter,” Haakensen said from her tiny, cluttered lab on the Saskatoon campus.

“I’ve gone through so many years of school and I’ve studied medical microbiology and all this and that—and now I’m saving beer,” she added. “[People] tease me about it, but they actually find it quite interesting.”

Haakensen has helped discover three new methods of detecting beer-spoiling bacteria, including a DNA-based technique, that has big breweries around the globe hoisting pints in celebration.

Breweries usually have to keep batches of beer for two-three months to make sure they haven’t spoiled before cases are shipped out on trucks to liquor stores, said Haakensen.

“What we’ve done here is, by using DNA methods, we can actually figure out in a matter of one to two days if that beer will spoil.

“It’s kind of a bit like making a cookie recipe,” she explained. “It’s not hard to follow a recipe from a cookbook, but it’s really hard to come up with that recipe and that idea to begin with.”

She said breweries will be able to get more beer onto the market faster and save on lab costs.

Haakensen, who has won scholarships from several breweries such as Cargill Malt, Coors, and Miller, presented some of her lab’s beer breakthroughs last summer to an excited crowd at the World Brewing Congress in Hawaii.

Part of her research also includes the discovery of two new genes involved in beer spoilage and three new groups of bacteria that can ruin beer.

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