2009 Science News of the Year: Nutrition

Natural vanilla extract comes from pods (shown), but most vanillin is synthesized in the lab. Credit: De-Kay/istockphoto
Natural vanilla extract comes from pods (shown), but most vanillin is synthesized in the lab. Credit: De-Kay/istockphoto

That yeast smells good

Yeast has long been pressed into service for making beer and bread. Now the fungus has been tapped for a loftier flavor: vanillin, vanilla’s dominant compound (SN: 5/23/09, p. 9). Natural vanilla comes from the pods, or beans, of two orchid species, and the extract can be costly. So the majority of vanillin is synthesized in chemistry labs, a process that often requires expensive starter compounds. Danish scientists skirted these costs by genetically engineering two yeast species, strains of beer and baker’s yeast, to make vanillin from glucose, which is cheap and available. Genes spliced into the yeasts include one from a dung mold, two bacterial genes and a human gene. “This is absolutely beautiful work,” says John Rosazza, a medicinal and natural products chemist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. There is a huge commercial market for vanillin, he notes.

Milk concerns
Research points to hormones and related substances in milk as likely explanations for why adults who drink milk appear to face a slightly heightened risk of cancer (SN: 3/28/09, p. 5

When licorice interferes Licorice has long been used as a good treatment for plenty of ills, but the compound that gives the extract its healing powers may also interfere with certain drugs, a study in rats finds (SN Online: 3/25/09).

Vitamins for chromosomes
The chromosomes of women who regularly take multivitamins, especially supplements enriched with antioxidants, stay younger-looking longer, a study finds (SN Online: 6/24/09).

Antiviral vitamin Getting plenty of vitamin D — more than diet alone can offer — appears to provide potent protection against colds, flus and even pneumonia (SN Online: 2/23/09).

Better off dead
Probiotics that deliver dead microbes are just as effective as those that deliver the microbes live, and are safer, a study reports (SN Online: 8/26/09).

Stress benefits
Field trials indicate that the extra stress that organically grown crops typically face could explain their abundance of certain micronutrients — ones that protect the plants and aid human health (SN Online: 2/13/09).

Gradual peanut treatment
Little by little, some children can overcome their peanut allergy by eating more and more peanuts. But don’t try this at home (SN: 4/11/09, p. 11).

Bee supplement
A honeybee product holds promise for helping endurance cyclists cope with the heat stress that develops during long-distance rides (SN Online: 7/29/09).

Chemo-thwarting tea
Green tea’s polyphenol antioxidants inactivate the cell-killing activity of a drug used to treat blood cancers, according to new experiments on cancer cells and in animals (SN Online: 2/5/09).

Empty herbal gesture
A study testing pomegranate supplements — in the form of capsules, tablets or soft gels — found that most contain little or none of the beneficial plant material that they are supposed to possess (SN Online: 8/25/09).

Apple a day
Preliminary study results suggest that healthy postmenopausal women who eat apples daily may be lowering their cholesterol and protecting themselves from heart disease (SN Online: 4/20/09).

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