When UC Berkeley Professor Richard Mathies began prototyping the Mars Organic Analyzer (MOA), he never expected it would help millions of wine drinkers that suffer adverse reactions from consuming red wine.
Funded through NASA, Mathies set out to develop an instrument to detect life on Mars. His MOA prototype analyzes Martian soil samples to find a broad class of molecules like organic sugars, amines and amino acids, which are key components for detecting life on the planet.
Many of you are probably asking how this all ties into wine and why you would care. Consisting of many minor components, wine consists of many amino-based compounds including Tyramines and Histamines, which can trigger a wide range of symptoms from nausea, headaches and hot flashes to respiratory disorders and high-blood pressure for many wine drinkers. If you are one of many individuals that suffer adverse symptoms, help may be on the horizon.
Until now, those that suffer are probably better off not drinking at all, or at the very least should take a few precautionary steps to reduce the aftermath. Besides reducing intake and drinking plenty of water, cut back on foods rich in Tyramines such as aged cheeses, grapes, figs, pineapple, plums, dried fruits, avocados, shrimp sauces, processed & cured meats (e.g. prosciutto, salami and pastrami), soy & teriyaki sauces, nuts, and chocolate.
Tannins may sometimes cause a release of serotonin, which can cause headaches for people that typically suffer migraines, so selecting less tannic wines like French Burgundy, Dolcetto, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais and Tempranillo also reduce symptoms.
Above all, you should always opt for premium wines, which are much less likely to have impurities in them.
So why don’t we simply look for a wine that is free of amino-based compounds? Like sulfite-free wine, it does not exist.
Mathies, which also suffers adverse reactions from consuming wine, discovered that the MOA would be the perfect instrument to detect amino-based compounds in wine. During his experiment in collaboration with Kent Rosenblum, the proprietor of Rosenblum Cellars discovered that Amino-based compounds naturally turn up during malolactic fermentation, which is a secondary fermentation process used to produce red wine.
The malolactic fermentation process kindles Tyramines and histamines, which typically cause adverse reactions for many wine drinkers.
“Merlots seem to be particularly high, [in Tyramine components]” Mathies says, “but at this point we haven’t done a sufficiently conclusive study to figure out whether some varietals, or wines from specific wineries, are consistently more tyramine-laden than others”. The good news is that once Mathies organizes additional funding, he intends to continue his research in this area.
So does this mean that individuals that suffer reactions from drinking wine are out of luck? Simply put, either drink wine and suffer the consequences, or simply stop drinking wine? Well, not exactly.
Although the MOA prototype is only used in the laboratory now, Mathies hopes to create a handheld home device for consumer use, which will come in handy to test foods and beverages at home or while dining at a restaurant. For many, “Having a quick testing kit could ultimately save lives”, suggests Mathies. So when will it be available? Mathies predicts an analyzer of this type should be available in a couple of years from a new company called Microchip Biotechnologies Inc. located in Dublin, California.
As for the Mars MOA, NASA has transitioned the analyzer into the flight build process so they are now starting to build hardware for the various engineering and flight versions. For more information about the continuing development of this project, visit the astrobiology.berkeley.edu site.