Archive for December 25th, 2007

25
Dec
07

Bring On The Terroiristes

Borrowed emphatically from The Economist

An oenological wish-list for the drinking season
For the beleaguered winemakers of France, threats come in many guises. One French grower complained that each bottle of New World wine that lands in Europe is a “bomb targeted at the heart of our rich European culture”. But few things agitate French winemakers more than other winemakers’ unspeakable irreverence towards the terroir, the mix of soil and climate found in the place where a vine is grown. The strength of feeling is so great that the country even has its own breed of, er, terroiristes. A group of masked, militant French winemakers has attacked foreign tankers of wine, bricked up a public building and caused small explosions at supermarkets.

Now France’s balaclava-clad winemakers have a new horror to see off: transgenic wine. Scientists have unpicked the genetic secrets of pinot noir, the grape that produces some of the world’s finest wines and also contributes to some blends of champagne (see article). It turns out to be the offspring of two very different parent varieties—they have less genetic material in common, in fact, than humans do with chimpanzees. The researchers’ findings, which cast light on the origins of pinot noir’s subtle flavours, will make it easier to engineer new varieties that can grow in places where cultivation is impractical today. Efforts to create transgenic grapevines are well advanced, and transgenic wine yeasts are already starting to appear in American winemaking.

Alas, those working on transgenic vines have failed to heed the lessons of earlier GM-food fiascos. They are creating what the producers want (disease-resistant grapevines) rather than making tweaks that also appeal to consumers.

What sort of traits might consumers want, you ask? More reliable flavours for one thing. No longer need you doubt whether a wine truly does possess flavours of exotic coffee, chocolate, Asian spice, roast duck and blackberry and prune liqueur. Genes from those very animals and plants could be spliced straight into the grape’s genome. Forget hours spent swilling, swirling, sniffing, gurgling and spitting—it will all be there in black and white, in the sequence data.

From Saint-Amour to Viagra

Why should sauvignon blanc be stuck with boring old gooseberry and cabernet sauvignon with cassis? Genomics could beget some novel wine flavours and combinations to ensure the wine really does go with the food: pinot noir with cranberries, pork, and sage and onion stuffing, perhaps.

And why stop there? It would surely be wise to boost the levels of wine’s beneficial ingredients and add a few more for good measure. Consistent amounts of resveratrol, quercetin and ellagic acid will help improve cardiovascular health and may even confirm what the French have known all along—that drinking red wine is good for you.

A gene for producing acetylsalicylic acid, better known as aspirin, would help to prevent heart attacks and blood clots. You could get your doctor to supply your daily half-bottle by prescription. The aspirin’s analgesic effect would head off hangovers before they even started. Caffeine could be added to keep drinkers awake during boring dinner parties. And it may even be possible to insert a gene to produce sildenafil citrate, the active ingredient in Viagra. For many men that would help to prevent the ultimate wine-induced humiliation.

The possibilities are endless—all that is needed is a little imagination. Too bad if all this leads to an outbreak of militant shrugging among the good vintners of Burgundy. Times have changed. Scientists have a clear duty. Following the lead of many world leaders, they must make it clear that they are not willing to negotiate with anyone who supports terroirisme.

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25
Dec
07

Holiday Cheer In a Pile of Poop

NEW YORK (AFP) – A former New York doorman who slipped on a pile of pigeon droppings on a subway station’s stairs has been awarded six million dollars in compensation, according to a report on Monday. Fifty-six-year-old Shelton Stewart slipped on the station steps in 1998, injuring his neck and back, despite saying he had noticed the pile of excrement on his way to work the same day, the New York Post reported. A jury awarded Stewart 7.67 million dollars in damages, but New York city’s transit authority only has to pay 80 percent of the sum, or 6.13 million, since Stewart was found 20 percent liable for failing to avoid the fecal pile. Stewart was reportedly planning to use his windfall to buy a house and take his two daughters and grandchild to Disney World in Florida.

That’s right folks. A man who was too STUPID to avoid walking in a pile of poop becomes the country’s next millionaire at the expense of New York City. The concept of evolution is supposed to weed out the less worthy from the gene pool, not make them rich.

25
Dec
07

Un-Christmas Food Post

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time… then you are aware of my passion for bacon. And bacon has been getting a lot of press lately as folks push the envelope of its deployment as the ne plus ultra of food. I wish I cam up with this. I didn’t. It’s a bacon burger. No, not a hamburger with bacon on it, but a burger whose base is ground bacon instead of ground beef. It’s often been said that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I think I’ve (the inventor) blurred that line this time around.