Florida college looking for way to make wine healthier

Students do battle with cancer-causing fungus occurring in crushed grapes


MIAMI – We hear the good news about red wine all the time. Studies tout the fact that in moderation it can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and prevent diabetes.

[WEB EXTRA: Healthy wine]

Now there is groundbreaking research going on in Florida to make wine and beer a little healthier.

The problem starts where ochratoxin is secreted by a vineyard mold. It's a mold that grows in a warm and humid environment, and when the grapes are crushed, the ochratoxin is emitted and gets into the wine.

Ochratoxin is regulated in Europe, but not in bottles of wine from the United States.

Enter the Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism and its new wine lab where students are looking for ways to fight the toxin.

"What we are doing in this lab is trying to create unique strains of yeast; yeast with unique characteristics that will make wine better," explains Dr. Aaron Welch.

All wine is made with yeast. It's what turns the sugar in these berries into alcohol.

What Dr. Aaron Welch and his team are trying to do is genetically alter the yeast to also kill the toxin.

"The yeast that we want to make will be a good fermenter, so it will produce good alcohol from the sugars, and it will get rid of the toxin," explains Welch.

The approach here is that food and drinks should be healthier and more environmentally friendly.

"It's all about the customer experience. People are more concerned than ever with enjoying themselves in a healthful way," said Welch.

Welch hopes to have this new yeast isolated in less than a year and ready for the university to patent and sell.