Scientists at Rice University in Houston, Texas are hard at work trying to create a beer that can fight cancer and heart disease. A student research team of six is trying to genetically engineer a beer to include higher levels of resveratrol, the chemical found in red wine that’s believed to fight diseases. It’s the key ingredient that has led to what has been dubbed the “French paradox.”
Last June, scientists at the University of Wisconsin found that giving resveratrol to middle-aged mice makes them age more slowly and has the further advantage of strengthening their heart, even when given a high fat diet. In addition, recent breakthroughs in nanotechnology at Stanford, UC San Diego and Texas at Austin with regard to heart conditions made what the Rice students are trying now possible.
So far, they’re in the “process of developing a genetically modified strain of yeast that will ferment beer and produce resveratrol at the same time.” They quickly discovered that the yeast used in the Rice lab is not particularly good for making a decent-tasting beer. So this summer, the team asked local craft brewer Saint Arnold Brewery for some of their own yeast. Apparently, resveratrol is tasteless and odorless, much like iocane powder, that poison used in The Princess Bride.
“We’re now putting these genes into the yeast,” Taylor Stevenson, one of the team members said. “We’re fairly confident it will work because all the components have worked separately.” The plan is that hopefully the genetically modified yeast could be sold to commercial breweries so that they could make healthy beer, though at this phase of the work it will likely be at least five years before a commercially viable strain is developed.
The team’s immediate plans are to enter their BioBeer in the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine Championship Jamboree next month in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Rice’s news staff also has an article about the team’s efforts entitled Better beer: College team creating anti-cancer brew.
Despite the obvious advantages of a beer that’s indisputably healthy — though in truth beer today is plenty healthy, regardless of neo-prohibitionist propaganda to the contrary — my initial reaction is one of skepticism. Perhaps that’s because I don’t understand genetic engineering all that well. But the idea of a genetically modified beer or Super Beer does not strike me as the best idea to come along. I guess that makes me more of a traditionalist when it comes to food. I’m not a fan of GMOs and I don’t see how this is appreciably different. If GMOs are generally a bad idea, why would genetically modified brewer’s yeast be good?
Up, up and away. It’s Super Beer!