Category Archives: News

Oil in Your Wine

Every great bottle of wine begins with a humble fungal infection. Historically, winemakers relied on naturally occurring yeasts to convert grape sugars into alcohol; modern vintners typically buy one of just a few laboratory-grown strains. Now, to set their products apart, some of the best winemakers are revisiting nature’s lesser-used microbial engineers. Not all these strains can withstand industrial production processes and retain their efficacy—but a natural additive offers a possible solution, new research suggests.

Industrial growers produce yeast in the presence of oxygen, which can damage cell walls and other important proteins during a process called oxidation. This can make it harder for yeasts—which are dehydrated for shipping—to perform when winemakers revive them. Biochemist Emilia Matallana of the University of Valencia in Spain and her colleagues have been exploring practical ways to fend off such oxidation for years. After showing that pure antioxidants worked, they began searching for a more affordable natural source. They found it in argan, an olivelike fruit used for food and cosmetics. The trees it grows on are famously frequented by domesticated goats.

Matallana and her team treated three varieties of wine yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) with argan oil, dehydrated them and later rehydrated them. The oil protected important proteins in the yeasts from oxidation and boosted wine fermentation, the researchers reported in a study published online in June in Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies.

Microbiologists are now interested in studying how and why each yeast strain responded to the argan oil as it did, says enologist Ramón González of the Institute of Grapevine and Wine Sciences in Logroño, Spain, who was not involved in the work. The oil may one day enable vintners to use a wider range of specialized yeasts, putting more varied wines on the menu. As for how the oil affected the wine’s taste, Matallana says it was “nothing weird.”

This story first appeared in the September 2018 issue of Scientific American: [html] [pdf].

Wild animals could hamper efforts to eradicate yaws disease

Global health officials are intensifying efforts to eradicate yaws, a disfiguring skin disease that infects more than 64,000 people a year in 14 African and southeast Asian countries. But some critics say that the plans could fail, because they don’t take account of discoveries in the past few years that wild primate populations harbour the bacterial infection. That could complicate or foil eradication efforts, they say.

Public-health officials met in Geneva, Switzerland, on 29–30 January to discuss how to expand the eradication programme in 6 of the 14 countries in which yaws is endemic. But they did not discuss the part played by wild animals. “Even if this is not the main cause of re-emerging yaws nowadays, it would jeopardize global eradication,” says Sascha Knauf, who studies neglected tropical diseases at the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen, Germany.
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India’s Biometric IDs Trigger Privacy Lawsuits

In January, justices of the Supreme Court of India gathered to discuss the country’s national identification system, called Aadhaar. Since 2010, authorities have enrolled 1.19 billion residents, or about 93 percent of India’s population, in the system, which ties fingerprints, iris scans, and photos of Indian citizens to a unique 12-digit number.

Almost a decade later, India is still grappling with the technical, legal, and social challenges of launching the world’s most ambitious government identification program. Aadhaar’s reach and ubiquity has made it a tempting vehicle for centralizing activity, including welfare payments and mobile number registrations. But it has also raised major privacy and security issues. Continue reading