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Nanotechnology Looms: Wine Programming and More

Posted by perle0 on 2007-02-26 19:00:43 (3603 views)

[News]
[England]
Imagine the wine purchase of the future: you hand over your money (or your credit card, or your bar code tattoo), and receive a bottle of clear, tasteless, odorless liquid. When you're ready to drink it, you program the elements you want in your beverage, and wave your microwave transmitter over the bottle. Instantly, infinitesimallly small nano-capsules filled with a variety of substances release their contents into the water, creating a made-to-order wine with exactly 13.7% alcohol, the flavor of red wine but the color of white (to prevent stains), and the perfect mix of flavors you prefer in wine. They even release substances to create the perfect nose and ratchet up the levels of healthy polyphenols.

Welcome to the brave new world of nanotechnology.

If this scenario intrigues you, consider this: programming in a different set of requirements might have turned the same bottle of liquid into diet cherry coke. Or chocolate milk, fortified with omega-3 oils and extra calcium. Basically, you have the most innovative way to program exactly what you want to eat since Star Trek's (fictional) replicators.

This kind of nanotechnology is still mostly fictional, too, but the technology behind it is rapidly being explored. Already, there's a chewing gum in development that uses nano-capsules to recreate the sensation (but not, presumably, the calories) of eating chocolate. Sign me up for that gum, pronto!

There's just one hitch: is nanotechnology in food safe? "Matter has different behaviour at nano-scales," said Dr Kees Eijkel from the Dutch Twente University. "That means different risks are associated with it. We don't know what the risks are and the current regulations don't take that into account." Aluminum is stable at normal sizes, but explosive at nano-sizes.

Nano particles, which can be smaller than a virus, can cross natural barriers in the body that normal-sized particles can't. For example, nanoparticles could probably cross the blood-brain barrier that normally keeps unwelcome substances out of your brain. Would those nanoparticles stay put in your manufactured wine, or might you find yourself with nano-capsules full of caffeine and cherry flavoring floating around your brain or liver, doing heaven knows what?

Let's hope they put a good deal of research into these particles before they start selling us instant designate-your-own-beverage. And in the meantime, we can always make do with wine made from grapes.

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