The Sceptical Chymist | ACS: All in good taste

Published in Chemistry

My first highlight of the meeting was Eric Anslyn’s talk ’ Mimicking the mammalian chemical senses using supramolecular chemistry’. Here I learned that, like me, Anslyn is a Coca-Cola man…by which I mean that he doesn’t like the taste of the diet version – I presume this applies to other soda brands as well. It’s not just him though, his chemistry can tell the difference too.

Anslyn and co-workers use arrays of supramolecular receptors to discriminate between analytes. The idea is that while no one member of the array binds selectively to a particular analyte, each analyte will bind to each receptor slightly differently and it is the overall pattern that discriminates. This is similar to the way in which we taste, as flavours are not like a lock and key with a single receptor for a single flavour, but a combination of the sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami.

So it all comes down to pattern recognition, and Anslyn and co-workers have used similar systems to identify terpene molecules in “cheap” perfume (presumably the research grant doesn’t run to Chanel No.5!), detecting the type of artificial sweetener used in a cup of tea, and most recently to detecting the grape variety used in a wine.

It’s no Oz Clarke yet, but this latest research allowed them to develop a pattern recognition that could test red wine and identify the grape by the pattern of recognition in an array of peptides, you can read more about it here (subscription required). Interestingly, of the wines tested there was one outlier – a Zinfandel which in the pattern recognition fell more in the region of a Pinot noir. The punchline?…the winery called Anslyn the other day to explain that that particular wine did contain a lot of Pinot in the blend!


Stephen Davey (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)

PS. It’s my birthday, so I’m planning to identify some wine varietals of my own later.

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