Grape origins

A paper in Conservation Genetics identifies (not, I think, for the first time) the Caucasus as the centre of diversity and origin of wild grapevine, at least based on microsatellites. A genetic refugium was detected in Sardinia, and it would be interesting to know whether the plastid lineage that is fixed there is responsible for the high levels of procyanidins in some local wines.

The lure of the allergen-free peanut

Once again, the appeal of the magic bullet seems to over-ride sensibilities. Scientists at the University of Florida have identified a variant of a peanut protein that is apparently less likely to cause an allergic reaction. This opens the prospect of being able to satisfy the peanut cravings of the more than 2.5 million people in North America and Europe who suffer peanut allergy. But imagine the nightmare of labeling, accidental contamination and downright fraud? There are some pretty choice labels around at the moment. I remember one that read something like “Made in a factory that never processes any kind of nuts” which strikes me as one up on “May contain nuts”. But “Contains ara h 3-im peanuts” doesn’t strike me as all that reassuring.


A study just published in Nature and reported in The Times here identified the particular class of the polyphenols found in red wine which confers the greatest health advantage, by suppressing production of a protein which narrows blood vessels. There’s been lots recently in the press about the supposed health benefits of moderate consumption of wine, in particular red wine, as part of the “Mediterranean diet.” Known as polymeric procyanidins, these polyphenols turn out to be present in particularly high concentrations in some wines from Sardinia and the Pyrenees. This is due to both the wine-making technique (the compounds are released from the seeds after a long period of fermentation) and variety (the Tannat grape from SW France is rich in these chemicals). The Cannonau wine from Nuoro (Sardinia) and the Madiran from Gers (France) have the highest levels of procyanidins, and it turns out that people from those areas are also of above-average longevity, especially the men.