A NASA scientist has developed a device that can assess levels of headache-causing agents found in some wines, Decanter reports.
Some biometric amines – compounds which occur naturally in some red wine – cause headaches in some people by elevating heart rates, among other triggers. The modified amino acid tyramine is a particular culprit.
Now, University of California chemistry professor Richard Mathies, who suffers from 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 millimeters thick.”
A drop of wine on the chip mixed with a special liquid agent results in “florescent labeling.” The intensity of the labeling 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 that have undergone malolactic fermentation.
Says Mathies: “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.