Researchers at the University of Illinois' Energy Biosciences Institute have designed a "jail-breaking" yeast that could increase the health benefits of wine while simultaneously decreasing the number of toxic byproducts responsible for hangovers.
Yong-Su Jin, a professor of microbial genomics, said that he and his team used a "genome knife" to make precise changes to the way in which yeast reproduces.
"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. 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," he said.
But with this new "genome knife," Jin said that there is boundless potential for adding nutritional value to food.
"Wine, for instance, contains the healthful component resveratrol," he explained. "With engineered yeast, we could increase the amount of resveratrol in a variety of wine by 10 times or more. 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."
Moreover, winemakers would be able to correct improper malolactic fermentation -- the process by which the toxic byproducts that cause hangovers are created.
Jin also said that he believes that using this technique will make genetically engineered food less objectionable, because it doesn't require using antibiotic resistance creating "markers" to alter the product.
"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," he said.