Artificial tongue used to taste tannins in wine

Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have developed an artificial tongue that uses a surface plasmon resonance (SPR) based nanosensor to measure the dryness of wine.

The research, which has been published in ACS Nano, says that the artificial tongue detects the effects of tannins in the mouth by using proteins found in human saliva. The researchers are looking at how the proteins change when they interact with wine, and then use this to describe the effect of the wine.

According to researchers at the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre of Aarhus University, this marks the first time that a sensor has been produced that not only measures the amount of proteins and molecules in the mouth when wine in consumed, but also measures the effect of wine (or other substances) entering the mouth.

The sensor is said to benefit wine producers greatly as it makes it possible from them to control the development of astringency during wine production right from the beginning of the process. At present, the level of astringency can only be measured once the wine is ready, and only by a professional tasting panel. The sensor however enables producers to work towards the desired level of dryness before the wine is ready.

“We don’t want to replace the wine taster. We just want a tool that is useful in wine production. When you produce wine, you know that the finished product should have a distinct taste with a certain level of astringency. If it doesn’t work, people won’t drink the wine,” says PhD student Joana Guerreiro.

“The sensor expands our understanding of the concept of astringency. The sensation arises because of the interaction between small organic molecules in the wine and proteins in your mouth. This interaction gets the proteins to change their structure and clump together. Until now, the focus has been on the clumping together that takes place fairly late in the process. With the sensor, we’ve developed a method that mimics the binding and change in the structure of the proteins, i.e. the early part of the process. It’s a more sensitive method, and it reproduces the effect of the astringency better.”

Although artificial tongues are not in themselves new, this new sensor differs in that it can measure an effect rather than just a number of molecules.

"Understanding the effect is an important prerequisite for producing better and more targeted medicine. The sensor can be used for diagnostic purposes, so it could possibly be helpful for discovering and even preventing diseases,” says Duncan Sutherland, research director for the study.


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