ACS: All in good taste

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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.

Stephen Davey

Chief Editor, Nature Reviews Chemistry, Springer Nature

Stephen holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Sheffield where he conducted research on asymmetric nucleophilic catalysis. He then moved to Groningen, Netherlands for postdoctoral research on the synthesis and applications of light-driven molecular motors. He has been a chemistry editor for 12 years. He began his editorial career with the Royal Society of Chemistry (working on the journals Lab on a Chip and the Journal of Environmental Monitoring). In 2008 he joined the launch team of Nature Chemistry and later that year moved to Boston, USA where he stayed until the end of 2015. Shortly after returning to London he moved jobs to become Chief Editor for Nature Reviews Chemistry, which launched in 2017.