UV radiation in fight against adulterated wines

31. October 2019
In the beginning, there was light… actually, more like UV radiation. And it enables the chemists from Brno to differentiate among hundreds of samples of various wines. And they want everybody to be able to do the same thing.
UV radiation in fight against adulterated wines

Just like the discovery of penicillin, this project was born from an accident. When scientists from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Mendel University needed orange juice for their experiments, they noticed that the samples of this drink behaved differently every single time, depending on which brand they brought to the lab. What first seemed only a complication to the original experiment posed an unexpected question: what if somebody needs to detect differences in seemingly identical substances?

The working title of this new project is UV-fingerprint. In order to reveal, for example, whether the technological procedure to produce the juice was changed, it is necessary to expose a sample of it to UV radiation. This causes unique chemical changes specific to its composition that may help identify it, as well as describe its unique character.

A pocket sample analyser

The research team behind the discovery of the UV-fingerprint is led by associate professor Markéta Vaculovičová and doctor Lukáš Nejdl. They believe that this technology could one day make life simpler for a lot of people. The discovery is only now being patented and a scientific study is going to be published soon as well. Now, the scientists from Mendel University are working hard to incorporate this idea into everyday use. To that end, they’ve been looking for an industry partner to come up with a practical technological solution. Ideally, it should be a simple and compact, portable device to help reveal adulterated food and other substances.

“Our situation is rather unique because we don’t need money for development or to run our lab; we need a true commercial partner interested in the product to help us design its technological solution to suit their needs as well,” explains professor Vojtěch Adam, the head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. 

The technology is based on observing what are called the “spectral characteristics” of a sample. In other words, a sample is exposed to UV radiation and in just several minutes its spectral characteristics reveal what it is made of, no matter if the sample is a type of wine or juice.

Unfortunately, dark or non-transparent samples are impossible to analyse like this; other than these, nearly anything that can be turned into a liquid can be analysed, says doctor Nejdl. His team is also currently trying to apply this method to clinical specimens. This could help detect various pathological conditions, such as prostate cancer. The method could also be suitable for detecting counterfeit medicine or identifying a producer of a drug sample.

Wine-making is one of the areas the team has been intensively working on. Well, no wonder, as this is #brnoregion, the promised land for wine. In cooperation with local wine-makers, the scientists have now tested over 150 samples of wines and another approximately 1400 samples are waiting to be analyzed. Just imagine! A single drop of commonly-sold white wine and the UV-fingerprint reveals if it really comes from the type of grapes advertised on the label. And who knows, in a few years you may be able to test at home what the bottle you’ve received from a colleague at work really contains. All that thanks to the scientists from #brnoregion!

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