DNA-SHAPES: Analysis of Complex Biological Mixtures by a Novel Method - a model for artificial taste

Project: Research

  • Carlsberg Group Research
See relations at Aarhus University


Overall Aim: The specific aim of DNA-SHAPES is to obtain molecular based definitions of complex mixtures of ingredients in food and correlate these to human senses with a view to development of an artificial tasting technology that conceptually resembles our natural sensory systems.
Background: Humans are equipped with sensory organs for taste located on our tongue and elsewhere in the oral cavity. The taste impression is created when substances bind to taste receptors on cells located on our taste buds. Along with odour and texture/temperature this determines the flavors of the substances. Humans have about 4000 taste buds, each consisting of about 100 cells. Each cell expresses 50-100 different receptors, which upon binding of specific tastants initiate intracellular signaling cascades transducing into neuronal signaling to the brain. In essence, this means that the complex signal from approximately 500.000 cells is creating the taste conception in our brain.

Approach: Is to mimic this natural concept artificially by creating a library of billions of different modules that specifically can bind to individual substances. By selecting the subclass of modules that can bind to a particular food mixture and subsequently characterize them we can create a “picture” of the ingredients - very similar to the principle applied by our brain. However, our sensing strategy will not use protein receptors but rather free-floating DNA molecules folded into defined 3D structures.

Impact: The primary goal of DNA Shapes is to create a practical tool, based on high-end DNA science, calibrated to human perception via data analysis such that the DNA measurements mimic human perception and, as a result, can give us brand new insights into how we taste. In addition, with new miniature devices for DNA sequencing it is foreseeable that we within a few years can create hand-held devices for rapid and accurate assessment of food-quality, -authenticity, -contamination and -designation. This is of high relevance for e.g. general screening of the molecular content of imported and exported goods, real time quality assessment in production lines and tracing of contaminants. The DNA-SHAPE technique can in addition readily be expanded for a wider range of applications. It will e.g. have obvious applications in healthcare, where characterizing the mixture of proteins and other biomolecules in biofluids (blood, spinal fluid, urine, saliva, faeces) can help disease diagnosis, in pollution control of water and soil and for forensic science.

Funding: Carlsberg Foundation: Semper Ardens Research Project

Collaborator: Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (iNANO), & Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics - Gene Expression and Gene Medicine, Carlsberg Group Research
Effective start/end date03/08/201631/01/2020

ID: 129057631