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Wine Research Centre at UBC

Dr. Hennie J. J. van Vuuren

Professor and Eagles Chair in Food Biotechnology
Director: Wine Research Centre
Associate Member - Michael Smith Laboratories, Genomics Group

B.Sc., B.Sc. Honours, M.Sc. (Microbiology), University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
Ph.D. (Microbiology), State University of Ghent, Belgium

dr van vuurenFaculty of Land and Food Systems
University of British Columbia
Suite 231 2205 East Mall
Wine Research Centre
Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6T 1Z4
Tel: 604-822 0418
Fax: 604-822 5143
Email: hennie.vanvuuren@ubc.ca

The Blythe and Violet Eagles Chair in Food Biotechnology was awarded to Dr. Hennie van Vuuren whose previous position was the Senior NSERC/Industrial Research Chair in the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University. Before emigrating to Canada, he was Professor and Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Director of the Institute for Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. Dr. van Vuuren is a wine biotechnologist and founding Director of the WRC at UBC.


van vuurenDr. van Vuuren is a pioneer in the field of metabolic enhancement of wine yeasts. The first two genetically engineered wine yeasts to receive Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) status from the US FDA were constructed in his laboratory. The malolactic wine yeast, ML01, degrades malic acid to lactic acid during the alcoholic fermentation, prevents spoilage of wines by other microorganisms and prevents or limits the formation of bioamines (allergens) in wines. S. cerevisiae ML01 is both the first genetically enhanced wine yeast to receive GRAS status from the US FDA and to be commercialized by the wine industry. Notifications have been submitted to regulatory bodies in other wine producing countries to obtain permission for commercialization of ML01.

Urea amidolyaseNovel urea-degrading wine yeasts that will significantly limit the formation of ethyl carbamate (urethane) in wines and brandy have recently been engineered in Dr. van Vuuren's laboratory.

This naturally occurring compound can be found in many fermented foods and beverages. Ethyl carbamate is considered potentially dangerous to humans, as it exhibits carcinogenic activity in a variety of laboratory animals. Ethyl carbamate is genotoxic in vitro and in vivo. In 2004, the NTP released a report based on an extensive study and found that ethyl carbamate increased the rates of cancer of the liver, lung, harderian gland, and of hemangiosarcomas in both female and male mice. Ethyl carbamate also increased the rates of cancer of the mammary gland and ovaries in female mice and the rates of skin cancer and cancer of the forestomach in male mice. The urea-degrading red wine yeast developed in his laboratory has also received FDA GRAS status (link) and is currently being commercialized.

Burgundy FranceFundamental research in the van Vuuren laboratory focuses on the metabolic adaptation of wine yeast to stresses during wine fermentation. A systems biology approach (transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics) is used to study how yeast cells adapt to nutrient depletion, increasing ethanol concentration and fermentation stress in general. The function of a number of orphan genes expressed only during the late stages of alcoholic fermentation in S. cerevisiae, is being elucidated.

Further research details are available in Dr. van Vuuren's publications page and Laboratory Members page.


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