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Rice Biology Students: Making Beer Better

Winos have been enjoying the “but it’s good for me” excuse for too long. Some Rice University students are slicing and dicing genes so that now beer drinkers can enjoy some health benefits, too.

International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) is the world's largest synthetic biology competition. The contest asks teams of students to play around with DNA to produce living organism with odd purposes – like making beer good for you.

The Rice BiOWLogists are working on BioBeer. A brew which has modified yeast that creates resveratrol – the cancer-preventing ingredient in red wine that has also been linked to lowering risks of heart disease in lab animals.

Making beer? Best. Homework. Assignment. Ever.

Hair Balls asked team member and Rice student David Ouyang how much research is going on with this project. (And by “research” we mean the kind that has you staring down the bottom of a frosted mug not a microscope.)

“The ironic thing is that the vast majority of participants in this project are undergrads,” Ouyang says. We get it, this research under the table.

“We haven’t actually examined this particular strain of yeast in that sense,” he says and laughs. The yeast will be modified to produce the resveratrol thus making the beer healthy. This is what the group will present during the competition that runs November 8 to 9 in Cambridge, Mass. Ouyang says once the group returns it will actually start brewing beer.

We asked him to explain how it will eventually work … and then remembered why we barely made it through Bio I.

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An excerpt from his explanation:

“There are many steps involved in creating this compound. I guess you can start with the bare skeleton of a molecule and that there will be specific proteins that add specific functional groups that will alter this metabolic thing to specific ways in that after a series of modifications it will create the resveratrol … A lot of groups have characterized specific enzymes to make changes to create resveratrol but they’ve never actually combined all these enzymes together in one package to make the resveratrol from scratch,” Ouyang says.

Um, yeah, we’ll drink to that.

Dusti Rhodes

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