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Nasa boffin creates device to end wine headaches

A Nasa scientist has developed a device that can assess levels of headache-causing agents found in some wines.

Some biometric amines – compounds which occur naturally in some red wine – cause headaches by elevating heart rates, amongst other triggers. The modified amino acid tyramine is a particular culprit.

Now University of Berkeley chemistry professor Richard Mathies – who suffers form wine-induced headaches – has created a device to detect these agents.

Mathies is working on research for NASA’s Mars Organic Analyzer, to detect organic molecules on the red planet,

Using a ‘micro-fabricated glass design,’ Mathies and his students produced a sensor-filled chip that resembles ‘a wafer a few inches in diameter, and a few millimetres thick.’

A drop of wine on the chip mixed with a special liquid agent results in ‘florescent labelling’. The intensity of the labelling measures how many amines exist in the wine.

Mathies said that different amines exist in different kinds of wine. Saki, for example, ‘is loaded with [allergy-inducing] histamines,’ while the modified amino acid tyramine, which can cause headaches, is most often found in red wines which have undergone malolactic fermentation.

Tyramine releases adrenalin and elevates heart rates and blood pressure – which leads to headaches.

Mathies said, ‘This device would allow people to see which wines have elements that could bother them and then choose a wine accordingly.’

The chemist could not explain why malolactic fermentation results in higher tyramine or why such elements occur less often in white wines. ‘We have not looked at enough wines to have a systematic view of which wines produce more tyramine, but it is clear that red wines have more,’ he said.

Mathies said there is ‘growing interest’ in the device. He is working with a company that could produce it commercially.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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