The production of fuel ethanol from sugarcane-based raw materials in Brazil is a successful example of a large-scale bioprocess that delivers an advanced biofuel at competitive prices and low environmental impact. Two to three fed-batch fermentations per day, with acid treatment of the yeast cream between consecutive cycles, during 6-8 months of uninterrupted production in a nonaseptic environment are some of the features that make the Brazilian process quite peculiar. Along the past decades, some wild Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains were isolated, identified, characterized, and eventually, reintroduced into the process, enabling us to build up knowledge on these organisms. This information, combined with physiological studies in the laboratory and, more recently, genome sequencing data, has allowed us to start clarifying why and how these strains behave differently from the better known laboratory, wine, beer, and baker's strains. All these issues are covered in this minireview, which also presents a brief discussion on future directions in the field and on the perspectives of introducing genetically modified strains in this industrial process.
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