Turning Beer Into Wine, One Gene At A Time A group of Rice University students is taking a chemical found in red wine and genetically engineering it into beer. They hope their new Biobeer will bring the health benefits of wine to a broader range of people.
NPR logo

Turning Beer Into Wine, One Gene At A Time

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96762643/96784995" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Turning Beer Into Wine, One Gene At A Time

Turning Beer Into Wine, One Gene At A Time

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96762643/96784995" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, host:

A toast now to Joe Six-Pack's cardiovascular health from a group of students at Rice University. They're trying to take a chemical found in red wine and genetically engineer it into beer. It's Science Out of the Box.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: I'm joined now by Taylor Stevenson, Thomas Shapiro and David Ouyang. They're all undergraduate bioengineering majors at Rice University in Houston. Welcome to the show.

Mr. TAYLOR STEVENSON (Undergraduate Student, Bioengineering Major, Rice University): Hi.

Mr. THOMAS SHAPIRO (Undergraduate Student, Bioengineering Major, Rice University in Houston): Thank you.

LYDEN: Now, Thomas, you guys want to make beer more like wine. And we're wondering why on earth anyone would want to do that.

Mr. SHAPIRO: The main reason we're trying to make beer more like wine is simply because beer consumption far outstrips wine consumption. And since wine is implicated in having a lot of very beneficial effects on people's health, such as being anti-cancer, possibly good for cardiac health, if we can put these effects into beer, those benefits can be seen by a very wide range of Americans.

LYDEN: Taylor, how exactly did you think this would work?

Mr. STEVENSON: When we were first conceiving this project, we essentially were looking for a way to coerce our brewer's yeast, which we got from St. Arnolds Brewery in Houston, Texas, to produce this beneficial compound that's found in red wine. This compound, of course, is called resveratrol.

And the way we decided to go about doing it was finding these two components or these two genes that are in grapes and actually putting them into the yeast strain that we're using to brew our beer. So essentially, at no extra cost to the brewer, whenever you're brewing using our yeast, the yeast will start producing resveratrol at hopefully pretty significant quantities.

LYDEN: Now, David, I know that none of you are drinking age yet. So, you can't taste it legally.

Mr. DAVID OUYANG (Undergraduate Student, Bioengineering Major, Rice University in Houston): Yes. Well, there are still quite a few steps that are required before we can actually consume this beverage. There are so many steps, both in the genetic engineering and the actual brewing of the beer, that in order to have a final product, a finished product that is consumable, we will definitely be of age by then.

LYDEN: I see. So it's going to take a couple years yet.

Mr. OUYANG: Definitely.

LYDEN: What about the taste? I mean, will it have an amber taste or weiss(ph)?

Mr. STEVENSON: The strain of yeast that we're using that we actually obtained from St. Arnolds is a hefeweizen strain. So, hefeweizens have a little bit of citrusy kind of a taste and smell to it. But in addition, actually, one of the interesting parts of our project is that these genes that we're engineering into the yeast, one of them, in addition to producing the product required for resveratrol, is going to be producing this kind of floral and honey-like kind of aroma and taste.

LYDEN: That's sound like a good bet for bio-beer. You guys are submitting your new beer design today to the Genetic Engineering Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. What are they going to do? They're not going to be able to taste it because it hasn't fermented enough yet. So, how's anyone to judge its efficacy?

Mr. STEVENSON: This is a competition for undergraduates judged on concept and implementation. So, while we might not have beer for the competition, we have a very great idea on how to introduce unique substances into yeast and put it into beverages.

Mr. SHAPIRO: Basically, it's based a lot on the genes that we're actually putting into the yeast. So, instead of submitting, say, a batch of our bio-beer, what we've submitted is the genes that we're putting in the yeast to make the bio-beer.

LYDEN: Well, listen, we wish you the best of luck. And hopefully, by the time you're all 21, you'll be toasting each other with bio-beer.

Mr. SHAPIRO: Oh, thank you very much.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.