The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) synthetic biology competition will be held on November 8-9 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 85 teams will be part of this contest, using 'a standard toolkit of DNA building blocks -- think genetic LEGO blocks -- to create living organisms that do odd things.' One of these teams, the 'BiOWLogists' from Rice University, plans to unveil an anticancer beer, dubbed 'BioBeer.' It will contain resveratrol, 'a chemical in wine that's been shown to reduce cancer and heart disease in lab animals.' If the team succeeds in creating such a beer, the majority of its members will not be allowed to drink it because of their age. And you will be able to choose to die from cancer or alcoholism. Read more...
Before going further, please read the Resveratrol page at Wikipedia to discover its characteristics. The picture above shows a "3d molecular spacefill of resveratrol." This image has been released as public domain by Wikipedia contributor Ccroberts. Here is a link to a larger version of this picture.
This 'BioBeer' research team has been advised by Jonathan Silberg, an assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology. In fact, the majority of the students involved in this project are working in his research group. You'll find their names by reading the Rice University news release mentioned into the introduction.
But why do these students want to make beer with resveratrol? "It's a naturally occurring compound that some studies have found to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer and cardiovascular benefits for mice and other animals. While it's still unclear if humans enjoy the same benefits, resveratrol is already sold as a health supplement, and some believe it could play a role in the 'French paradox,' the seemingly contradictory observation that the French suffer from relatively low rates of heart disease despite having a diet that's rich in saturated fats."
Here is a quote from one of the members of the BiOWLogists team. "'I have seen some studies where it's been shown to activate the same proteins that are known to play a role in extending the life span of lab animals that are kept on low-calorie diets,' said junior David Ouyang. Ouyang said the team is working with a strain of yeast that's used commercially to make wheat beer. They got a sample of the yeast from Houston's Saint Arnold Brewing Company, and they are modifying it with two sets of genes. The first set allows the yeast to metabolize sugars and excrete an intermediate chemical that the second set can later convert into resveratrol."
Another member of the team, Taylor Stevenson, provides additional details. "'One set of genes gets you from A to B, and the other gets you from B to C,' said Stevenson. 'We've already created a strain that has the B-to-C genes, but our genes for the A-to-B part are still on order.' With some luck and hard work, the team said it will finish the full A-to-C yeast in time to get some data before heading to Cambridge. But even if they don't have this final piece of the puzzle, they're confident they'll have plenty of data from other experiments and computer models."
Sources: Rice University news release, October 16, 2008; and various websites
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