Wine: fantastic. Wine hangovers: entirely brutal. This is the unfortunate catch-22 that causes a delightful evening of Merlot-guzzling to be followed by a horrific morning of pounding headaches, chills, and self-loathing.
But maybe, it doesn’t have to be so. Those busy little scientist-bees over at the University of Illinois have been abuzz about a new yeast that might be able to let us have our red and drink it too.
New research that was recently published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology suggests that bioengineered yeast could be the much-longed-for Destroyer of Hangovers. Scientists have developed a “genome knife” that enables them to do “precise metabolic engineering” of microbes, including the strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae that are used in the production of wine, beer, and other fermented foods and beverages. Using this “knife,” they can increase all of the pluses of drinking wine (i.e., the health benefits) while also mitigating some of the minuses—meaning the woeful physical consequences. Winos, rejoice!
Yong-Su Jin, an associate professor at the university, explains that the polyploid strains of yeast found in breads and boozy beverages have historically been hard to tinker with because they have complex genomes with multiple copies of each gene. But the new “genome knife” can slice through all of the copies of a gene with improved precision, meaning that there would no longer be the issue of unaltered copies of the gene repairing altered copies after the fact. The “knife,” for the record, isn’t a teeny tiny stainless steel blade, but an enzyme (a little less fun, but perhaps more realistic).
But enough about the science—let’s talk about getting drunk!
The yeast engineered by this new enzyme tool can, for example, result in wine with increased levels of resveratrol, the very fun compound responsible for the “red wine is good for you” chatter that we’ve all been privy to and occasionally abused to justify getting two bottles deep on Charles Shaw on a Monday night. Resveratrol is a pretty magical antioxidant compound that can allegedly do everything from fight cancer and heart disease to clear up our zits to help preserve the sharpness of our pithy minds. And now we can have ten times as much of it in each glass of Bordeaux!
The “genome knife” also has properties that enable it to activate a secondary malolactic fermentation process, which makes wine smoother and results in fewer toxic byproducts that could be the cause of hangover doom.
Jin also says that the enzyme can be used to enhance the wine with compounds from other medicinal foods, such as ginseng. And, although wine is our BFF, these same applications can be said for other fermented foods such as beer, cheese, pickles—even kefir and kimchee, if you’re freaky like that.
Another interesting usage for the enzyme is to isolate the genes responsible for individual flavors—the ones that make certain wines more delicious, tannic, dry, sweet, or what-have-you than others. In other words, almost every characteristic of your glass of wine can be broken down on a genetic level
Creeped out by the GMO aspect? Jin argues that the new tool actually improves upon existing models of genetic alteration by eliminating the need for “antibiotic markers,” one of the biggest concerns in GMO technology because of the risk of increasing antibiotic resistance in dangerous bacteria.
Politics are one thing, but delicious wine that clears up your skin, boosts your memory, and doesn’t make you want to crawl in a hole and die the next morning? Sounds pretty damn tempting.