Imagine wine, only better for you and without the hangover the next day. Researchers from the University of Illinois are working to make this a reality with their recent study, which used genetically engineered yeast to make healthier versions of wine and other alcoholic beverages.
The new wine would be possible due to a "jail breaking" process, known as a "genome knife," researchers believe can greatly reduce the toxins created by wine that cause a hangover, The Independent reported. Previously, changing the genomes of yeast was a very difficult task.
"Fermented foods — such as beer, wine, and bread — are made with polyploid strains of yeast, which means they contain multiple copies of genes in the genome," Yong-Su Jin, a researcher involved in the study explained in a recent press release. "Until now, it's been very difficult to do genetic engineering in polyploid strains, because if you altered a gene in one copy of the genome, an unaltered copy would correct the one that had been changed."
The genome knife helps to avoid this auto correction and has allowed scientists for the first time to genetically alter yeast — a feat that can lead to many possibilities.
Scientists could improve on the health qualities of wine, adding more resveratrol, the healthy component in red wine. Resveratrol helps to prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces cholesterol, and prevents blood clots. One study has even linked resveratrol to a longer lifespan. They could also introduce healthy compounds found in other foods into wine, enhancing its health factor.
On top of increasing the levels of resveratrol, the genome knife would also allow scientists to reduce the amount of toxic byproducts that can cause hangovers.
Hangovers are caused by a number of factors, so reducing toxins won’t be 100 percent effective at completely preventing hangovers, but it will surely help reduce the discomfort. This may prove especially useful, since research has shown that wine drinkers tend to underestimate how much they pour into their glasses and end up with surprise hangovers.
It’s not just wine that could benefit from the genome knife, though.
"We could put resveratrol-producing pathways into yeast strains used for beer, kefir, cheese, kimchee, or pickles — any food that uses yeast fermentation in its production," Jin said.
Don’t expect the new and improved wine to be on shelves just yet, however. The process is still yet to be perfected. Scientists still have to create function-specific mutations.
“Say we have a yeast that produces a wine with great flavor and we want to know why. We delete one gene, then another, until the distinctive flavor is gone, and we know we've isolated the gene responsible for that characteristic," Jin added.
Source: Zhang GC, Kong II, Kim K, Liu JJ, Cate JH, Jin YS. Construction of a quadruple auxotrophic mutant of an industrial polyploid saccharomyces cerevisiae strain by using RNA-guided Cas9 nuclease. Applied Environmental Microbiology. 2014.