Sniffing out the Cybernose

A collaboration funded to the value of AUD$4m is working to develop the ‘Cybernose’, a new generation of electronic nose based on the way simple animals smell.

Researchers in the collaborative cluster between The Australian National University, Monash University and CSIRO‘s Food Futures National Research Flagship are trying to understand how simple animals make sense of smells. The microscopic nematode worm will be central to the Cybernose research due to its highly sensitive molecular recognition system, allowing it to sense smell and flavour qualities in grapes.

The Cybernose will involve putting sensor proteins from insects and nematodes into an electronic nose to replace the current generation of electronic sensors that are not discriminating enough.

Although the applications will be numerous, the group is initially working with the wine industry. It may be used in the future across other sectors of the food and beverage industries and, in the long term, the Cybernose technology could be developed to enhance Australia’s biosecurity by detecting and intercepting pests and diseases.

‘The Cybernose will draw on how the brains of simple organisms such as insects and tiny nematode worms process information about smells and tell the difference between related odours,’ said Dr Trowell, the Flagship team leader.

‘By 2013, we aim to have, in wineries around Australia, a Cybernose that will enable the wine industry to objectively measure aroma and flavour – a more reliable measure than chewing some grapes.

‘This will enable winemakers to pick grapes at the time of optimum ripeness and even to tailor the style of wine precisely and so improve its value. This has the potential to contribute AUD$750m annually to the industry.’