Beer tasting with a cyber tongue


Bottoms up! We’re helping to brew the perfect ale with our Cybertongue® technology.

By Angela Beggs

Last weekend saw the kick off of Good Beer Week. In celebration of this wonderful week, we thought we’d take the hop-portunity to talk about some science that could make it easier for brewers of the future to keep making the best tasting beer.

As all beer fanatics would know, most beer is made from four key ingredients. Barley, water, hops and yeast.

For a brew of the perfect pale ale, you need to extract the sugars from grains (usually barley) so that the yeast can turn it into alcohol and carbon dioxide, creating beer.

Simple, right? Wrong. There are many components of beer that affect the smell, taste and the way it feels when it hits your taste buds.

Our experts in microfludics have used a biosensor to measure the levels of maltose in beer with a high-tech “lab-on-a chip” we call the Cybertongue® technology.

Maltose or malt sugar, is a stepping stone in the process that converts the starch in barley into the alcohol and fizz in beer.  Not much maltose is left at the end of the brewing process, but what there is contributes to the drink’s taste and body.  Testing the levels of maltose in beer is something brewers do because too much of it can change the way the beer tastes.

How does it work?  Well, our scientists have hijacked the inbuilt sensors that simple microbes use to find their food and re-purposed them to test for the presence of flavour molecules present in a wide range of food and beverages (including delicious beer).

To run the new test all it takes is a drop of liquid amber. In the lab, researchers mix the maltose biosensors with the ale within the tiny channels, of a special lab-on-a-chip – a transparent slice of plastic about the size of a credit card.

Chips and beer anyone?

Chips and beer anyone? Our lab-on-a-chip measures the levels of maltose in beer in a matter of minutes.

Once the sample has mixed, the measuring begins. Within a couple of minutes, the results are in!  Measuring the level of maltose has been possible for many years, but doing it on a chip makes it much quicker and easier than it has ever been before.

This type of technology could be used to ensure quality and consistency across different batches of beer. And, as well as beer, maltose is found in other beverages, cereal, pasta, and in many processed products which have been sweetened, so there may be applications in those areas too.

The same biosensing technology can be used across many different types of beverages and foods, to measure nutritional properties and flavours, as well as guard against toxins or contaminants. In the future it might also be used to warn people with intolerances and food allergies to things like lactose, which is chemically similar to maltose.


Dr. Nam Le will be speaking on the Cybertongue® technology, not so much the beer, during May 27-30 at Biosensors 2014.

Weaving a smarter future with bee silk

Why is bee silk creating such a buzz? Image: Alex Wild.

Why is bee silk creating such a buzz? Image: Alex Wild.

By Matthew Walker

They might be famous for their painful sting and delicious honey, but like many other insects, bees also produce a super strong silk. And we’ve found a way to recreate this for a range of everyday uses.

Unlike silk from spiders or silk worms, bee silk has a special molecular structure that our researchers have been able to reproduce in the lab. They can also give the silk special functionality by introducing additional or different proteins to the mix.

The result is ‘smart’ bee silk that can be turned into fibres, thick sponges or transparent films. This can be used for many different purposes from advanced aviation to wound repair and the replacement of human tissue.

Our recreation of bee silk is spawning a new generation of smart materials that can sense and respond to the environment. It has even been entered into a global innovation competition called LAUNCH, where scientists develop game-changing technologies to shape the future of fabrics.

You can check out all the finalists and vote for your favourite entry on the LAUNCH website.

Find out more about our silk gene research.

Slime as you’ve never seen it

Bacterial cells are coloured by the computer vision software and their movements are tracked and measured for further analysis.

Our computer vision software can track and measure the movement of bacterial cells.

By Carrie Bengston

Last week, the prestigious US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published a fascinating article about . . . slime. Not just any old slime but the slime layer made by bacteria as they grow and colonise surfaces like the back of your sore throat when you have a cold, or on medically implanted devices like catheters. Our scientists have been working with UTS to determine what the slime is made of. And the amazing thing is that it contains DNA.

Most of us think of DNA as the molecules in every cell nucleus that carry the genetic codes for our blue eyes or our big feet. But extracellular DNA (or eDNA) has been found in slime that some bacteria species produce to help form a layer that grows and expands. As you can see below, all those massing bacteria gliding over slime trails look a bit like traffic on roads. The eDNA-containing slime allows new ‘roads’ to be formed and the film of bacteria to spread efficiently.

Moving bacteria

Moving bacteria – both as filmed down a microscope (grey) and as interpreted (black and white) by computer vision software.

Our role in the research was to use our computer vision techniques to translate the complex movements of swarming bacteria into a set of measurements other researchers could analyse. We used image analysis software to track the direction, speed and size of bacteria.

By forming a growing, interconnected slime layer or ‘biofilm’, bacteria are better able to resist antibiotic treatments. In the recent PNAS paper, the researchers wanted to better understand the role of extracellular DNA in biofilm development. So, they grew bacteria of a species called Pseudomonas aeruginosa between an agar gel and a transparent glass slide. They got spectacular movies of the biofilm spreading – both in the presence of extra-cellular DNA, and in its absence.

The medicine cabinet of the future could contain pharmaceuticals that target eDNA. Image: Michael Mortensen.

The medicine cabinet of the future could contain pharmaceuticals that target eDNA. Image: Michael Mortensen.

They found eDNA helps form the slime that guides the traffic flow. It co-ordinates the movement of the bacteria so that they move almost as one, rather than the bunch of individual cells they are. So despite the fact that DNA’s structure was announced 60 years ago, we’re still learning more about what it does today.

Future research could help us find new drugs or treatments that would target this extracellular DNA and may help to fight persistent infections. This means we can stay healthy and give those bacteria the heave-ho before they get moving.

For more information on how we’re working to keep you healthy, head to our website.

Are all stem cells safe? Absolutely not!

Stem cells have been hailed as the holy grail for treating many diseases and illnesses, including blindness, spine injury and stroke. Recently it was even reported that scientists had printed human embryonic stem cells using a 3D printer.

While it is easy to get carried away with the hype and the promise, it’s also important to not lose sight of the most important thing – safety.

Today our scientists have published a new paper all about stem cell safety which highlights how not all stem cells are safe. They have also developed the first safety test specifically for human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which are now the most commonly used pluripotent stem cell type for research.

Our scientists are hoping the study and the new test method will help to raise the awareness and importance of stem cell safety and lead to improvements in quality control globally.

100% synthetic

By Angela Beggs

It’s enough to make any fashionista cringe. Even I can tell you that when it comes to outerwear, synthetic is less than desirable.

Luckily our stem cell researchers have a different view. Synthetics are now playing a lead role in the field of regenerative medicine – in a slightly different form than we currently know them of course.

Our researchers are hard at work developing new ways to grow stem cells using synthetic materials. Scientists are now able to create cell therapies for the treatment of chronic diseases and produce replacement cells for transfusions and transplantation. Thanks to advancements in stem cell technologies, we’re anticipating a range of big medical breakthroughs – and it’s all thanks to our artificial friend.

Synthetic material gives researchers greater control of stem cell growth, makes it safer to use stem cell therapies in humans, and decreases the cost of growing cells.

Go to the surface initiated polymerisation website to find out more.

Suits your sir: Tailor made titanium body parts

In the seventies a TV show called the Six Million Dollar Man introduced the idea of implanting bionic parts to give people super strength. While this might have been fantasy at the time, the reality of creating extra strong body parts is now here – and making them is almost as easy as pressing ‘print’ on your computer.

We have just announced a new facility which can create bespoke body parts made out of titanium. So far, we have used it to create hip joints and skull plates. What makes titanium so special is that it is bio-compatible and muscle and bone naturally graft to it.

The potential of this technology is the creation of made-to-measure parts, not just for medical applications, but also aerospace and automotive manufacturing. The reason we’re investing in this work is that Australia is one of the richest sources of titanium ore in the world.

Sticking it to weeds

CSIRO has developed a new biodegradable weed mat which could put a stop to nasty weeds and transform the future of Australia’s agriculture and farming industries.

Made from linseed straw, the CSIRO mat is 100 per cent organic, and unlike conventional black plastic matting, completely biodegrades.

The mat has been developed as part of the Australian Government’s National Weeds and Productivity Research Program, managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC).

Sixty million square metres of plastic weed mats are used in horticulture, gardens and parks, and homes across Australia each year but most will never completely decompose, according to environmental consulting group AgEconPlus, a partner in the research program.

Biodegradable weed mat developed in conjunction with Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

Recent trials of the CSIRO weed mat showed that it safely biodegrades. Tests also show that because the linseed material retains moisture, the soil under the mat stays healthy and encourages worm activity.

The matting is made using high pressure water jets tha link the fibres together to form a compact fabric. Researchers believe it could also be made using other agricultural waste materials, such as hemp or banana fibre.

Preliminary testing by CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering in Geelong showed that the weed mat degraded over a few months, allowing the mat to be absorbed into the soil.

“Other benefits of the weed mat were that it effectively retains moisture, allows rainfall to soak into the soil, reduces evaporation, and boosts beneficial worm activity,” Research Program Leader Dr Stuart Lucas said.

“We believe the CSIRO mat will encourage much healthier soil. Unlike other black polyethylene weed mats, which can remain underground for years, the CSIRO mat is made from plant material and will disintegrate and compost into the soil at the end of its life,” he added.

CSIRO Researcher Dr Malcolm Miao said that the technology could be a major benefit to growers involved with organic and biodynamic production across the horticultural sector as well as manufacturers and suppliers of agricultural and garden products.

“In addition to weed mats, this type of fabric may have a number of other end uses which could potentially benefit other industries. For example, we feel this fabric could be used to create the eco shopping bags of the future, minimising the use of synthetics which reusable shopping bags are currently made from,” he said.

CSIRO Researcher Dr Malcolm Miao with the new weed biodegradable mat.

The weed mat was one of more than 50 research projects funded under the National Weeds and Productivity Research Program, which ended on 30 June 2012.

The RIRDC Weeds Program invested A$12.4 million in research aimed at improving the knowledge and understanding of weeds, as well as providing land managers with new tools to control weeds and reduce their impact on agriculture and biodiversity.

The biodegradable weed mat development requires further trialling to establish broad acre applications for a range of crops. It is not commercially available at this time.

Media: Angela Beggs.  Ph: +61 3 9545 2977 E:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,333 other followers