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Tomorrow Today

A taste of the future: the electronic tongue

The electronic taste buds are housed in pits on a silicone chip alt - electronic taste buds   

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Researchers at the University of Texas are developing an electronic tongue that they hope will someday be able to taste the differences in a variety of liquids, from orange juice to blood.

But can an electronic tongue mimic the sophisticated palates of wine tasters? Eventually, its developers say, it may come close.

With wine, for example, the tongue changes colors depending on how sweet or sour the vintage is.

The electronic tongue contains tiny beads analogous to taste buds. Each "bud" is designed to latch onto specific flavor molecules and change colors when it finds one, be it sweet, sour, bitter or salty.

The buds are housed in pits on the surface of the tongue itself, which is made of silicone.

Quality control for beverages is one way the electronic tongue could be used   

"Each one of these pits looks like a little pyramid, and it's just the right size that we can take one of these taste buds ... and nestle it down inside," says Dean Neikirk, a University of Texas computer engineer.

Researchers hope the electronic tongue can be used by industry to ensure that beverages coming off assembly lines are uniform in flavor.

They also plan to go beyond the four tastes of the human tongue and use the device to analyze such substances as blood or urine, or to test for poisons in water.

Some day, says chemist Eric Anslyn, the tongue might speed up blood analysis by testing everything from cholesterol to medications in a person's bloodstream, all at the same time.

But the developers have a way to go before achieving their vision. So far, the tongue can only tell the difference between white wine and white vinegar.

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