Scientists develop ‘virtual tongue’ for food tasting

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An international team of scientists is working on developing a ‘virtual tongue’ that can predict the taste of food products.

Combining Agrifood Sciences and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the project aims to create a virtual tongue by means of an integrated computational framework, which can detect foods for natural ligands aimed at taste receptors.

The idea is to design a taste predictor that can be applied to European food products, which is undoubtedly something that will boost the European food market and expand worldwide,” says lead researcher on the project, Vanessa M. Martos Núñez, of the University of Granada’s Department of Plant Physiology.

The UGR researchers participating in the VIRTUOUS project

The UGR researchers participating in the VIRTUOUS project

Researchers from nine institutions based in four European countries – Italy, Greece, Spain and Switzerland – are participating in the initiative, called VIRTUOUS, which stands for ‘Virtual tongue to predict the organoleptic profile of Mediterranean ingredients and their effect on human homeostasis by means of an integrated computational multiphysics platform’.

The proposed smart algorithm at the heart of VIRTUOUS, which is based on drug discovery techniques blended with big data algorithms, will predict the organoleptic (taste) profile of a specific food based on its chemical composition.

The researchers hope they can shed light on the mechanisms that control the transfer of information from the chemical level – where the molecular components of food meet taste receptors – to “a cascade of supra-molecular and cellular events”, which combine in a complex sensation that contributes significantly to the organoleptic profile of a given foodstuff.

In addition, they say VIRTUOUS can also be considered a “computer-aided design tool” for EU food technology. For example, based on taste prediction, then it may be used in the future to predict the results of grafting for a specific grape, or combined with other technologies to improve precision agriculture.

The project is being delivered as a Marie Sklodowska Curie RISE (Research and Innovation Staff Exchange) Action of the Horizon 2020 Programme.

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Christine writes about technology’s impact on business, and is a long-term contributor to specialist IT titles including Channel Pro and Microscope. She also writes for Raconteur and is regularly featured in The Times and Sunday Times.

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