Sam Adams’ founder Jim Koch famously claimed that eating yeast before drinking could stop a hangover before it started, but now scientists can use those tiny microorganisms to stop hangovers in a completely different, and more convincing way. The University of Illinois has created what it calls a “jail breaking yeast”—a genetically-modified strain that can be designed not to produce nasty, toxic byproducts that cause hangovers. Without diving too deeply into the science, the reason this sort of modification hasn’t been possible before is because, if a yeast cell has been modified, when it reproduces it doesn’t create an exact duplicate of itself. It reverts back to the pre-modified configuration. So if you altered an individual yeast cell to stop producing hangover-causing byproducts, when that cell reproduced, the new yeast cells would “correct” themselves and go right back to causing headaches. But scientists have developed a new tool called the genome knife that lets them isolate individual genes in yeast and alter entire crops.
What might this mean for you? Like we said, it could mean that scientists will engineer yeast that will drastically cut down on the headaches, nausea and everything else that causes you to pop a handful of Advil after a long night of drinking. But it might also make alcohol healthier for you. Red wine, for example, contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease, high cholesterol and a variety of other health problems. According to professor Yung-Su Jin, “with engineered yeast we could increase the amount of resveratrol in a variety of wine by ten times or more.” Jin even thinks they could get resveratrol into fermented products that don’t currently have it—beer, kimchee or kefir.
They will have to continue perfecting the technique, but we are certainly happy to raise a glass to hangover-free wine.