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Friday, August 11, 2006

Will the Cybernose Know Best?

Science is once again trying to eliminate the need for sommeliers and wine writers. Now they have enlisted a microscopic worm in the fight.

Researchers at the Australian National University, Monash University and CSIRO's Food Futures National Research Flagship are looking at how simple animals make sense of smells. They are focusing on the microscopic nematode worm as part of research into creating what they call the Cybernose. The goal is to create an artificial nose that will be highly sensitive to aromas using a molecular recognition system. The aim is to be able to judge the smell and quality of wine grapes.

The researchers say the current generation of man made electronic censors are not sensitive enough. They hope to find a way to use the sensory power of simple organisms such as insects and learn how they process information about smells and tell the difference between odors.

The researchers believe that by 2013 they will have a working Cybernose that Australian vineyards can use to judge grape quality and determine the optimum ripeness of grapes before they are harvested. The Cybernose might also be able to help wineries determine which grapes have aroma qualities that are favored by consumers, thus enabling winemakers to shift production towards grapes and growing areas with the highest money making potential.

I'm not sure I want a worm telling me which wine to drink. Then again, we've all purchased at least one highly rated bottle of wine only to find that the wine critic was the real worm.

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