College students often spend their free time thinking about beer, but a group of Rice University students are taking it to the next level. They're using genetic engineering to create beer that contains resveratrol, a chemical in wine that's been shown to reduce cancer and heart disease in lab animals.
Rice's "BioBeer" will be entered in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition Nov. 8-9 in Cambridge, Mass. It's the world's largest synthetic biology competition, a contest where teams use a standard toolkit of DNA building blocks -- think genetic LEGO blocks -- to create living organisms that do odd things.
Notable past iGEM creations include sheets of bacteria that behave like photographic film and bacteria that smell like mint while they're growing but like bananas when they stop growing. Rice's student-led iGEM team -- the Rice BiOWLogists -- are returning for a third year. Their entry last year, a bacterial virus that fought antibiotic resistance, was well-received but finished out of the prize running.
"After last year's contest, we were sitting around talking about what we'd do this year," said junior Taylor Stevenson. "(Graduate student) Peter Nguyen made a joke about putting resveratrol into beer, but none of us took it seriously."
But when the team began looking in earnest for a new project this spring, they discovered a good bit of published literature about modifying yeast with resveratrol-related genes. When they looked further, they found two detailed accounts by teams that had attacked both halves of the metabolic problem independently.
"That was when we said, 'You know, we could actually do this,'" said junior Thomas Segall-Shapiro.
Ironically, most of the team's undergraduate members aren't old enough to legally drink beer. But the reality is that with less than a month to go until the competition, the team has yet to brew a drop. All their work to date has gone into c
|Contact: David Ruth|