Analysis of food flavour with a bioluminescent tongue- and nose-on-a-chip

Analysis of food flavour with a bioluminescent tongue- and nose-on-a-chip


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Landbouw, Water, Voedsel>Sleuteltechnologieën LWV>Smart Technologies in Agri-Horti-Water-Food






Current food flavour analysis is mostly done with human panels. However, both academia and industry are struggling with the fact that panels are costly, and not able to isolate a single sensory aspect from a truly multisensory experience. To solve this receptor cell assays have been developed that overexpress human sensory receptors in cell lines. Those assays have proven to be excellent for determining specific compound receptor interactions, but are not suitable for the analysis of complex food matrices due to strong background signals (non-specific host cell responses and sample fluorescence). In the food industry, it is generally considered a holy grail, therefore, to solve these issues using a new laboratory tool. Such a tongue- or nose-on-a-chip should be fluidic to control sample exposure, based on human sensory receptors in live cells, and be comprehensive to include all relevant receptors as a continuation of the receptomics platform developed at WUR.
Bioluminescent probes have the advantage that they are insensitive to sample colour/fluorescence and can be designed to be highly specific for individual receptors avoiding generic host cell responses. Based on this promising perspective, the aim of the project is to switch the current fluorescent receptomics platform to a bioluminescent tongue- and nose-on-a-chip and validate its utility with applications that require a selection of sensory receptors.
The project contributes to MMIP ST1 Smart Technologies in Agri-Horti-Water-Food with its focus on developing a multiplex flavor sensor based on human sensory receptors and appropriate data analyses. The project will focus on the main taste receptors and a selection of olfactory receptors and develop a tool that will be available to the Agri-Horti-Water sectors as a whole and strongly promote both research and more applied food/agri R&D beyond the off flavour application investigated here. It has strong potential for applications in fundamental science and pharma discovery research as well.

Doel van het project

In this project we focus on how a nose- and tongue-on-chip could be used to analyze flavor in a range of natural products. These include proteins from pulses and umami-based salt replacer systems that are important products to (i) replace animal protein (meat consumption), and (ii) reduce salt intake. The food sector indicates that off flavours are a major impediment to broad consumer acceptance in all those products, while it does not have tools to efficiently investigate the off flavour issues and solutions. In fact both the identification and quantitative sensory measurement of off flavours are still major obstacles for innovation in this area. For this reason, the two participating industrial partners are prepared to sponsor the development of this tool that promises to measure directly in the undiluted food matrix and provide dynamic quantitative data. Public funding of this project will ensure that the technology will remain an open innovation that will benefit the sector as a whole.
Objectives KIA Agriculture, Water, Food: there is a need to move to other food systems that are better for the planet and human health. Replacing animal protein with plant protein is an important aim for the planet and reducing salt intake is a health aim to which this project contributes by investigating off flavors associated with plant proteins and fermented umami products
For the MMIP ST1 Smart Technologies in Agri-Horti-Water-Food the project takes a highly innovative approach to the development flavor sensors that can assist the food industry in evaluating flavor modifications relative to the natural human flavor receptors.

Relatie met missie (Motivatie)

The project contributes centrally to MMIP S1 Smart technologies in agri-horti-water-food: Subprogram and priority 1: Smart Technology for measuring, decision making and acting on a more detailed scale. The project develops sensors to assess quality of food automatically and quantitatively with impact to improve product quality and sustainability of natural ingredients.
This is co-supporting missions A “ Circular agriculture”, D “Appreciated (valued), healthy and safe food” It contributes to MMIP D1 Appreciation of food by developing technology to improve the flavour characteristics of healthy and sustainably produced food by, for example, replacing animal proteins with plant proteins. For naturally sourced food ingredients from plants or fermentatively derived food materials it will validate that certain off flavours limiting their applications can be identified and sensorically modulated. A particular example is that the current umami taste enhancers have a strong savoury taste that hampers application in delicately non-savoury products. Moreover, non-yeast extract based MSG alternatives are required to mitigate consumer rejection of MSG (and in the near future yeast extracts). Moreover it will teach us the best combinations and / or best ratios of odour ingredients to obtain natural flavours obtained by, for example, fermentation.
It contributes to MMIP D2 Healthy food an easy choice by developing tools to promote that ‘the healthy choice will be the easy choice’ because ‘the flavour is right’! This implies that off flavours of healthy, sustainable and natural food products/ingredients can be managed effectively by the ability to test for masking agents or processing modifications that remove the off flavour. The project works on products that allow the reduction of salt intake and replacement of animal with plant proteins, while maintaining the flavour with natural umami-based salt-enhancing systems and masking agents to suppress off flavours. More in general this platform will allow to also directly investigate food ingredients in relation to a much larger array of receptors and ion channels that are involved in health and wellbeing and focus more directly on diseases such as obesity, vascular diseases and gut health.
It also contributes to MMIP A4 Proteins for human consumption from (new) plant sources by developing the tools and knowledge to identify and modify or mask off flavours in protein from pulses to promote consumer acceptance of meat replacing alternatives.

Geplande acties

The project will deliver a flavour measurement tool, validated for off flavour, that can simultaneously taste and smell food products in the undiluted food matrix. Smelling is done with olfactory receptors in the liquid phase.

Meetings and reports: There will two (video) meetings with the industrial partners each year and regular updates on major results.

2020 Set up of a measurement platform for imaging reverse transfected receptor arrays using various probes, engineering crispr cas activation of sensory genes to functional levels, engineering bimolecular split luciferase or BRET probe for operation on the platform.
2021 Establishment of functional imaging systems for the measurement of specific sensory receptor activation with bioluminescence.
2022 Evalation of flavour sample series from yeast and plant proteins