Wine super-sniffer modeled on insect 'noses'

The nose of a worm may one day determine the nose of a fine wine.

A group of Australian scientists are collaborating to build a so-called cybernose, or an electronic sensing device that they hope will be used by winemakers to pick the best grapes.

Scientists from Australia's National and Monash Universities, among other institutions, announced the $4 million research partnership on Friday.

The researchers are modeling their work on the olfactory senses of microscopic insects like the worm and the fruit fly. For example, they're studying the tiny nematode worm because of its highly sensitive molecular recognition system, which helps it pick up the scent and flavor of grapes. The scientists plan to replicate the sensor proteins of this insect to create a more discerning class of sensor that could, for example, determine the ripeness of a Cabernet grape.

"The cybernose will draw on how the brains of simple organisms...process information about smells and tell the difference between related odors," according to the lead scientist of the research. "By 2013, we aim to have, in wineries around Australia, a cybernose that will enable the wine industry to objectively measure aroma and flavor--a more reliable measure than chewing some grapes."

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