A beer that battles cancer?

A team of researchers at Rice University, in Texas, is working to genetically engineer a brew that battles cancer and heart disease.

Taylor Stevenson, a member of the student-led team, said it was trying to create a beer containing resveratrol, a naturally-occurring substance found in wine which has been found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and cardiovascular benefits for a range of laboratory animals.

It remains unclear whether humans enjoy the same benefits, but resveratrol is already sold as a health supplement.

And some researchers believe it could play a role in the so-called "French paradox" - the observation the French have relatively low rates of heart disease despite a diet high in saurated fats.

"The idea is that it may have a greater effect [in beer than in wine]," Mr Stevenson told Computerworld.

"The amount of red wine you'd need to get the same results they get with rats in labs is about half a bottle a day."

He said the amount of resveratrol in wine varied from bottle to bottle, because it depended on growing conditions for the grapes and other variables.

The researchers believe they can design a beer with higher, more consistent concentrations of the cancer-fighting chemical.

The team turned to a boutique brewery in Houston, Texas for some good beer-making yeast, and is now genetically modifying it.

"We're fairly confident that it will work, because all the components have worked separately."

Mr Stevenson said the modified yeast could one day be sold to breweries, allowing them to make their own disease-fighting beers.

But beer-drinkers keen to try this bioengineered brew will be waiting a while: the research and development phase of the effort may take five years.

The team plans to enter its so-called BioBeer in the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine competition next month in Cambridge, Mass.

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