College students working on 'healthy' beer

HOUSTON At Rice, they've been brewing the "bio-beer," a beer college inventors say could be the first healthy beer.

"We're not encouraging people to go out and drink alcohol, but we're encouraging someone who is already drinking to drink something a little healthier," said student and bio-beer brewer Sarah Duke.

It's healthier because these Rice undergrads are genetically modifying it to add resveratrol. That's the compound in red wine that's thought to protect against heart disease and cancer.

"What someone said was that we're giving the health benefits of the wine and cheese crowd to the 'Joe Six-packs' of America," said student David Ouyang.

They're taking yeast used in making beer, and by genetically changing it, they are creating resveratrol. But first, these undergrads had to learn to brew beer. Then they began tinkering with the genes. And now, they're continuously measuring to see how much resveratrol they really have.

"If there's any increase, it should be great because normally beer should have no or little resveratrol," said Ouyang.

Bio-beer is not drinkable yet. It still has too many nasty things in it like pieces of DNA, chemical solutions and common lab bacteria. But they say by the end of the semester, they plan to have a drinkable version.

"Is it ready? What's it gonna taste like? Where can I get it?" said student Taylor Stevenson. "We've had emails asking where can they get our yeast and we've had to say, 'We're not there yet!'"

"A consumable beer should be ready by the end of this year," said Ouyang. "We should be able to take everything that's bad in it and take it out. But the FDA process is a really long process."

So don't look for this healthy bio-beer in the grocery store for a while. But if in years to come, you do see bio-beer for sale, think of these Rice students laboring away in their biochemistry lab, looking for that perfect healthy beer!

The rice bio-beer inventors will take their invention to Boston this weekend to compete in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition.

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