Scientists have developed a sensor that has been shown to identify 14 common sweeteners, both natural and artificial, according to a study described at the American Chemical Society’s 238th national meeting in Washington. The sensor, which is about the size of a business card, may identify sweeteners used in foods and beverages.

"We take things that smell or taste and convert their chemical properties into a visual image," said Kenneth Suslick, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "This is the first practical ‘electronic tongue’ that you can simply dip into a sample and identify the source of sweetness based on its color."

The "lab-on-a-chip" sensor consists of a glass-like container with 16 to 36 printed dye spots, each having the diameter of a pencil lead. The chemicals in each spot react with sweet substances in a way that produces a color change. The colors vary with the type of sweetener in a product. Intensity varies with the amount of each sweetener.

In the future doctors and scientists may use modified versions of the sensor for a variety of other chemical-sensing applications, including monitoring blood glucose levels in people with diabetes and identifying toxic substances in the environment.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, September 1, 2009, starting on Page 49. Click
here
to search that archive.