I have been meaning to write for a while, and I don’t know where the time goes, then just as I sit down to do so Theresa May announces an election, and the world gets even madder than it is already. As the election campaign gets underway I can only feel depressed: the conservative policies are frankly frightening: a hard Brexit will be a killer for British science unless something radical happens to improve the funding system. Labour is still imploding, and the current leadership policies whilst idealistically laudable are unlikely to attract enough support to stop a conservative landslide. I am reminded of the horrors of the last time Labour tried this with Michael Foot…….
What I was going to talk about was science: the good, the bad and the ugly. I have been to a conference in Banff in Canada, came back and had gastric flu, recovered then spent a lot of time training for my up and coming Mallorca cycle trip. I am trying to improve my climbing speed, although I have cheated a little by buying new wheels for Eddy; which are fabulous! The issue that prompted me to write came up during a BA flight. I was bored reading the BA business magazine (for once I got an upgrade to business to Canada, so I guess all those airmiles last year and reaching BA silver does occasionally pay off) and I nearly choaked reading about a Silcon Valley tech company called Vinome. Last year I learn’t a lot about the excellence, but also the pitfalls of Silicon Valley companies. It’s full of remarkable, and brilliant, people generating a bewildering array of ideas and I have a huge respect for many of them. Some are less remarkable though and Vinome is one of them.
To put this is context I have just been to a Keystone meeting (in Banff). This is one of the the best conference programs in biological sciences and attracts top speakers from around the world. It lived up to my expectations with some inspiring work being shown, and I returned fizzing with ideas. On our one afternoon off we had a lot of fun in the beautiful Banff country side with the huskies and a sledge! I am reminded that this is the one winter sport, as a vet, I am seriously cut out for!! I was not able to learn to ski as a child so that passed me by (although I have had a go a couple of times and I totally get it, but I am too scared of getting injured and not being able to run/cycle on my return)!
Compare and contrast then with Vinome. This is the company that leads with this headline “What if boutique bottles, perfectly matched to you, could be delivered right to your doorstep? Life Uncorked: Vinome brings you the ultimate personalized wine experience! Harnessing the science of taste, we analyze your DNA to match you to wines you will love, then deliver them right to your doorstep ($65 per bottle); Vino + Genome = Vinome“. This irritated me on several counts. Firstly the genetics of taste are poorly understood. There is a link between a gene and liking red or white wine, but that’s about it, and the studies have relative small numbers of people (4000). Vinome analysed the genome of 500 wine lovers and performed a survey on their tastes then “bingo”: they have cracked how to work out what wines people like. Really?!??!??!?!?! We barely understand how genetics impact on disease so this claim is, at best, unlikely! Needless to say it is not just me who is skeptical, but apparently “I hear the skepticism,” Vinome CEO Ronnie Andrews said, “but those people just aren’t wine fans.” So for those of you who don’t know one of my part time jobs is to help manage a very big wine cellar, but clearly I cannot be a wine fan! Finally their plan takes all the fun out of wine: the trial and error of tasting, seeing how it matches with food and how it changes with the environment in which you find yourself. This appears to be poor science (nothing has been published in peer review journals so its hard to argue otherwise with no evidence) which in the current political climate is not something any of us need. My advice: save your money on signing up and use it to buy some wonderful bottles of wine!