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New GMO Wine Makes Promises Of No More Hangovers, But At What Cost?

Scientists at the University of Illinois have engineered a genetically modified yeast to enhance fermentation and eliminate byproducts that cause hangovers. The question is, how will altering natural yeast in fermentation processes affect the chemical constituents in wine once metabolized?

Food scientists have been looking to incorporate additives consisting of a series of chelation compounds to wine to prevent it from looking, smelling and tasting funky after oxidation. The problem is, many of them are toxic to living cells. A new method of modifying yeast may bypass additives altogether.

“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,” said Yong-Su Jin, a U of I associate professor of microbial genomics and principal investigator in the Energy Biosciences Institute.

Recently scientists have developed a “genome knife” that cuts across multiple copies of a target gene in the genome. Jin’s group has now used this enzyme, RNA-guided Cas9 nuclease, to do precise metabolic engineering of polyploid Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains that have been widely used in the wine, beer, and fermentation industries.

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