Erin Doman on April 2, 2015 1 Comment If you’ve ever experienced a wine hangover, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The migraine, the nausea, the regret—it’s enough to contemplate sobriety. Luckily for us, scientists at the University of Illinois have discovered a unique way to remedy this: by redesigning the very yeast in our drinks. Their precise “genome knife” technology offers the prospect of eliminating the part of our wine that upsets our bodies while keeping the taste the same, and may even offer some added health benefits. So What’s in Your Wine? If you practice moderation and drink responsibly, wine should not be detrimental to your health. In fact, there are many positive elements in your glass that are thought to benefit heart health and lower stress levels. Compounds found in wine include various acids, phenolic compounds, proteins, sugars, and yeast, among others. The element that is thought to be responsible for many of these health benefits is resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of grapes and berries. Though unconfirmed, there is evidence that resveratrol helps to reduce inflammation, bad cholesterol, the spread of cancer cells, and the chance of Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. What Causes a Hangover? It’s commonly been accepted that sulfites are the natural enemy in wine when it comes to hangovers, but there is still much debate and conflicting information about the accuracy of this idea. One school of thought suggests that this excess of the preservative sulfites in wine can harm the active Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and make you not feel very well. Wine also goes through a secondary fermentation process during production called “malolactic fermentation”. If this process is done incorrectly, it can cause excess toxins in your wine that are linked to hangovers. For example, yeasts in wines that have gone through a rapid fermentation process (which frequently happens with Pinot Noirs) can end up creating histamines, which is believed to lead to inflammation and a hangover. Those of us who suffer from severe allergies are often times even more affected by these histamines, so I’d recommend either avoiding fermented wines altogether or going for your average over-the-counter anti-histamine you’d use for seasonal allergies. One way to avoid this histamine-causing yeast is by avoiding cheap wines and splurging on the higher-end stuff—but not all of us can afford that kind of lifestyle. One of the opportunities suggested by this new yeast slicing technology is the cloning of a particular enzyme in order to ensure that the malolactic fermentation process happens properly, which would limit the amount of histamines (among other toxins) from infiltrating your wine, creating a purer drink and a less excruciating morning-after. How is this Yeast Different? The biology that goes into wine is complex, and I am no biologist. What I do know, however, is that the yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) genome is a polyploid, which means that it has copies of the exact same gene throughout the genome, which has made it difficult for scientists in the past to permanently alter anything at this level. The naturally occurring structure of the yeast makes any change made to a specific gene completely regenerative by the copy gene, so no man-made change ever made a difference until this new technology was introduced. University of Illinois scientists have actually developed what they call a “genome knife” which has the capabilities to cut through the yeast genome with such precision that they can be sure all copies of a certain gene are removed. This is necessary to ensure that no copy of the original gene is reproduced, as would happen in the naturally occurring yeast. Scientists have discovered that by removing this particular strain they have noted the toxic side effects commonly associated with drinking wine have decreased and amount of healthy resveratrol increased—in some cases to over ten times the naturally occurring amount. The study also states that this new technology opens up the possibilities of adding other healthful components into wine, such as ginseng. If you’re wary of human-edited contributions to our natural world like I am, fear not. This technology is actually a step away from over-processed food and drink because it is simply removing a piece of the genome that tends to cause problems anyway, and nothing man-made or otherwise is taking its place. University of Illinois’ Associate Professor Yong-Su Jin states that, “with the genome knife, we can cut the genome very precisely and efficiently so we don’t have to use antibiotic markers to confirm a genetic event.” This also confirms that less is put into your wine, which encourages purity. The Future of Yeast This new technology opens up a world of health possibilities—and not just for wine! Any food or drink that naturally uses yeast, such as cheese and beer, can also benefit from this study. Heathier beer? Where do I sign up? So are you as excited as I am? This new technology is one step closer to giving wine its own category on the food pyramid. But remember, all in moderation, and at least for now wine is no substitute for the vitamins found in a healthy diet.