Scientists engineer ‘hangover-free’ yeast

A yeast engineered by scientists could increase the health benefits of wine and reduce its toxic byproducts, decreasing the risk of a hangover.


Yeast up close

US scientists have modified the yeast saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is widely used in the wine and beer industries, to produce a GM yeast which they say offers “staggering” improvements in a food’s nutritional value, as reported by the Business Standard. Scientists have gone so far as to claim that the modified yeast could even bring an end to the “morning after the night before” feeling.

The breakthrough was made possible by the development of the “genome knife” method, which allows scientists to cut across multiple copies of a target gene until all copies are cut.

“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,” explained Yong-Su Jin, a University of Illinois associate professor of microbial genomics.

“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,” Jin said.

This new method means that scientists are able to cut out unwanted copies, altering its genes in order to boost a compound’s good qualities and eliminate the bad.

“Wine, for instance, contains the healthful component resveratrol. With engineered yeast, we could increase the amount of resveratrol in a variety of wine by 10 times or more,” Jin said. “But we could also add metabolic pathways to introduce bioactive compounds from other foods, such as ginseng, into the wine yeast. Or 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.

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. While the “genome knife” process is still to be perfected, it could result in a future for genetically modified wines, which could give winemakers consistent control over the specific flavour characteristics of their wine.

“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.

Their research was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Check out our Top 10 Hangover Cures.

One Response to “Scientists engineer ‘hangover-free’ yeast”

  1. Terry Collmann says:

    Somebody who is an associate professor of microbial genomics ought to know better than to promote the “one gene, one trait” idea, which any geneticist will tell you is nonsense.

    And Drinks Business ought to know better than to say Saccharomyces cerevisiae (sic – capital S) is “widely used in the wine and beer industries” – for “widely used” read “universally used to make all but the minutest fraction of wines and beers”.

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