Synthetic biology

This is the third installment in my effort to share some photos associated Unnaturally Delicious (by the way, I noticed today that the book was reviewed by Nadia Berenstein for Popular Science).

In the fourth chapter, I talk about synthetic biology.

If yeast can convert sugar to alcohol, what else can it do? As it turns out, yeast is more than just an alcohol factory. Yeasts can eat up sugars to make flavors, fats, and fuels. And more. Yeast can make whatever its instructions tell it to make. By instructions, I mean the yeast’s genetic code, or DNA.

When people think about biotechnology and "GMOs" they tend to think about big chemical and pharmaceutical companies, but as I reveal, even teenagers and young adults are getting in on the action.  

Some of the most exciting developments in food bioengineering aren’t even among the Silicon Valley–like start-ups. They’re being conceived by kids who haven’t even finished high school or college. For more than a decade students around the globe have been assembling for an annual competition once hosted by MIT but now put on by the nonprofit International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation. iGEM has become the premier competition in synthetic biology for graduate, undergraduate, and high school students

I talked to a team from the City University of Hong Kong who made a pro-biotic to fight obesity (the modified bacteria "eats" undesirable fat and turns it into more desirable omega 3 fatty acid).  I also talked to the prize winning team from UC Davis who created a bacteria to test for rancid olive oil.  

According to Ritz, as much as 70 percent of the olive oil imported into the United States is rancid by the time it reaches the consumer. Rancid oil has gone stale. It isn’t necessarily harmful or even bad tasting to the average consumer. In fact, the UC Davis team conducted some blind tastes with consumers and found that many people actually preferred the rancid oil to fresh oil—perhaps because it is what they have become so accustomed to eating. Ritz said that fresh olive oil creates a tingling feeling in the throat—a phenomenon unfamiliar to many American consumers. Being habituated to blander, stale oil has its costs. Rancid oil does not have the same healthy compounds—like antioxidants—that are associated with fresh olive oil.

Here are some photos of that taste test and the entire UC Davis team.