What Could Be Better Than Wine and Chocolate?

by Gabrielle DeMarco on April 22, 2011

We are all familiar with those news articles that wax poetic about the health benefits of previously unhealthy fare such as red wine and chocolate. Believe it or not, there is actually some science behind the claims. One of things about these former vices that have given healthy eaters a new lease on life is the flavonoid.

Natural compounds found in plants, flavonoids are the molecules responsible for the vibrant and varied colors of flowers. They have also been widely studied to be a strong antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antiobesity, and anticancer agent in humans. But, before you run out and stock up on merlot and milk chocolate, perhaps a better source could be found than something laced with sugar, calories, and alcohol?

One of newest members of the faculty, Mattheos Koffas, is working is his lab to help develop an easy to produce, affordable, and potent way to get your daily flavonoids. He recently published a paper in the journal Metabolic Engineering detailing a way to optimize the production of flavonoids from simple glucose.

A metabolic engineer, Koffas focuses his research on ways to use chemistry to mimic and optimize some important cells that occur in the natural world. Another example is the cell of yew tree bark. Why tree bark? This simple bark is the chemical basis for some of the most potent and widely used chemotherapy drugs in use today. Koffas is taking these cells and looking at the pathways that they use to fight cancer in the body. This information will also help him uncover ways to further increase their potency.

With flavonoids, Koffas and his colleagues use simple E. coli as a means to easily convert simple glucose into beneficial flavonoids. Their simplified process reduces the cost of producing flavonoids in the lab and decreases the productions steps currently required to manufacture flavonoids in factories. The photo above, shows the four steps of the process that results in the production of the main flavonoid precursor, naringenin.

The complex chemistry might not look as delicious as dark chocolate, but the research is an important step toward developing better and less expensive flavonoids supplements or drugs.