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Wellcome Image of the Month – Wine crystal

13 Jan, 2012

The subject of January’s Wellcome Image of the Month might not be instantly recognisable, but I’d wager that more than a few of you came into contact with it over the festive period, most likely decanted from a bottle into a glass, then poured down your gullet. Yes, this is a confocal micrograph of crystals present in wine.

Dr Fernan Fedrici and Marcia Sartor first dehydrated a Malbec from their home province of Mendoza, Argentina, before using polarizing light and a magnification on 20x to capture the striking image displayed above. At a time of year when huge numbers of people will be resolving to cut down on their alcohol intake, it’s certainly a novel way to enjoy your favourite tipple, free from the dangers of over consumption. And for a significant proportion of people, giving up alcohol is not as simple as it may sound. In Great Britain 9.3 per cent of men and 3.65 per cent of women currently suffer from alcohol dependency.

New research offers cause to be optimistic for those though. The fruit of the Japanese raisin tree (Hovenia dulcis) has long been used to counteract alcohol intoxication and poisoning in East Asia (compounds in the fruit increase activity of alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase). Now, Jing Liang and her team at the University of Los Angeles in California have identified the flavonoid dihydromyricetin (DHM) as a key component in this effect. They found that in cultured rat neurons, DHM enhanced GABA currents. And as alcohol tolerance and withdrawal symptoms are the result of reduced GABAergic inhibition, DHM could have a significant clinical application in reducing alcohol intake if further studies prove positive.

Al McCartney, Wellcome Images

References and further reading

Image credit: Fernan Federici & Jim Haseloff, Wellcome Images 
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