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The Real Story Behind The Benefits of Red Wine

Scientists took a large step toward understanding the health benefits of drinking red wine when they succeeded in converting chalcone synthase, a biosynthetic protein enzyme found in all higher plants, into an efficient resveratrol synthase. As you well know, by reading this blog regularly, resveratrol a beneficial component of red wine, contributes to the improved cardiovascular effects associated with moderate consumption of red wine.

Here's the kicker: The health benefits of resveratrol consumption are a lucky accident, scientists say, because grapes produce resveratrol in order to defend against fungal invasion.

Researchers recently deciphered the three-dimensional structure of the plant enzyme that creates this remarkable but rare molecule. In the process, they've resolved a long-standing scientific puzzle: The crucial differences between common plant enzymes known as chalcone synthases and their resveratrol-producing relatives, the much rarer stilbene synthases.

Scientists realized decades ago that chalcones and stilbenes, two important classes of plant natural products with different properties, were produced by closely related enzymatic proteins. All higher plants possess chalcone synthase.

Chalcone-derived natural chemicals fulfill a number of important biological functions in plants including roles in plant fertility, disease resistance and flower color. Conversely, production of resveratrol and other rare anti-fungal stilbenes occurs in just a few plant species, including grapevines, peanuts, blueberries and some pine trees.

I also find it very exciting, according to researchers, that genetic engineering technology will actually be able to have common plants like alfalfa produce resveratrol. Some scientists actually believe that resveratrol may activate a longevity gene too. It would be wonderful to have this powerful natural protein more widely and inexpensively available in our food supply as it may seem to have profound implications for improving our health.

EurekAlert September 17, 2004

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