<< Wednesday 7 January 2015 >
The ‘wine and eggs’ crash diet was recommended by Helen Gurley Brown in her book ‘Sex and the Single Girl’, written in 1962.
Growing winegrapes may be the most backward form of horticulture that exists. The vast majority of the world’s production uses only about 20 cultivars out of thousands of available grape varieties. The wine industry is convinced these traditionally-cultivated varieties alone provide all the diversity necessary and that newly-bred varieties can’t compete on wine quality. This belief persists in the face of modern genetic evidence that many of the world’s traditional varieties were intentionally bred from older ones. But things may start to shift as wineries in highly-recognized regions cope with a changing climate.
Breeding through the centuries
Improvement of the limited set of traditional varieties is done through clonal selection. People watch for natural mutations in vine offshoots called bud-sports. When these mutations are beneficial (better color, berry size, or ripening dates) the new forms – which are clones – are propagated by cuttings and distributed.
But these naturally-occurring mutations don’t provide the range of fruit and wine quality needed to maintain excellence in a changing climate. Varieties do exist outside the 20 usual suspects that would provide better fruit quality under warmer or colder conditions, but they would have to be tested and promoted. New varieties can be bred, but they will need to be selected for multiple traits, which could take decades. It will be faster and more precise to take advantage of advances in molecular genetics to optimize traditional breeding and select for improved quality, better climatic adaptation and better pest and disease resistance.
If you’re a teetotaller, your friends have likely tried to convince you to taste red wine by swearing on its multiple health benefits. These benefits have been credited to a compound found in red wine: resveratrol. But claims for this compound have been a subject of major debate – while some argue that it can prevent cancer and promote heart health, others say there is no proof.
Resveratrol is a compound produced by certain plants in response to stress, injury, or fungal infection. Its natural function is to ensure the survival of the plant under these harsh conditions, and it has been used as an oriental medicine to treat diseases related to blood vessels and the liver. However, some studies have failed to observe the same “elixir” function. Because of the lack of enough human clinical data and a lack of understanding of how exactly resveratrol might work, the jury has remained out on whether this compound actually does lead to health benefits.
Now, Sajish Matthew and Paul Schimmel at the Scripps Research Institute have taken a key step in addressing this. In a study published in Nature, they explain the mechanism through which resveratrol does have anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and cardio-protective effects. And their findings open up avenues for its use in therapeutics.