Lessening hangovers one genetic compound at a time

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In Iok Kong, Ph.D. student in Food Science and Human Nutrition, operates the machinery used to extract yeast on March 30.

Imagine waking up after a Tuesday wine night at The Clybourne without an awful hangover.

This could eventually be a reality, thanks to a current research study occurring on campus. Yong-Su Jin, associate professor in the department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and his team have made hangover-free wine a possibility.

Though hangover-free wine is not created yet, nor will it be for a while, Jin and his team are experimenting with genetic components in yeast that cause hangovers. They are also investigating which components can be removed or added to decrease the effects of the yeast.

“The results from our study showed that it would be feasible to make wine containing lower amounts of compounds, which are known to cause headaches, through engineered yeast,” said Jin in an email interview.

Making wine with lower concentration starts at the secondary fermentation stage of wine. At this stage wine is made less bitter, but more amine compounds, like histamine, are added which can cause hangovers.

“We envision that our yeast engineering technology can be applied to get rid of the secondary fermentation while making wine taste smooth,” Jin said.

This research is complicated because they are working with industrial strains versus lab strains. Lab strains are specifically made for research, while industrial strains have another purpose, said Heejin Kim, a Ph.D student in Food Science and Human Nutrition department and member of Jin’s team.

“Industrial strains are used in an actual industry. It’s difficult for us to engineer them and be used within its field,” Kim said.

The genome knife, a tiny, new customized engineering tool created by UC-Berkeley Professor Jamie Cate and his team, has made it easier to access and research industrial strains.

The genome knife is the only way their team could have achieved what they have so far, said Guochang Zhang, postdoctoral research associate in the Energy Biosciences Institute and member of Jin’s team.

“Let’s say we have one layer of paper that is easily cut with scissors. Now, if we have a whole book, the scissors will have a more difficult time cutting through it,” Zhang said. “It’s easier to cut lab strains because they have one copy of their chromosome, but in industrial, there are multiple, like the whole book. This tool lets us manipulate even more than one chromosome now.”

Although they have overcome the first hurdle, the team is still a long way from marketing hangover-free wine. They’ll still have to introduce it to a much more conservative and cautious society. The team said after following a necessary protocol, maybe a hangover-free wine would even be sold globally.

“In the end, we could even add aromatic processes in the genes for them to smell like bananas instead of wine. We don’t know if we can do it, but there’s this new possibility (with the technology),” Kim said.

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