In case you were in any doubt about the diverse tastes that exist on our planet, this snippet will put them to bed.
One of Asia’s most sought-after beauty products, in the form of a soup, believed to be good for the skin, is bird-nest soup. Sounds a bit grosteque, and a rather dry, brittle, tasteless experience, until it is revealed that the nests are Swiflet nests and are spun from saliva! (any better?) Bird nest soup is a very lucrative business in China and people are willing to pay up to $100 just for a handful portion. However, because of the demand, counterfeit products h?ave flooded the market and are causing safety concerns. Last July China stopped all exports from Malaysia, their second biggest supplier of the delicacy. The Malaysian agricultural ministry says its edible bird’s nest industry is worth RM5B (over €1bn). Counterfeit bird’s nests have also affected producers like Yanming Resources. At its factory in Kuala Lumpur, more than a dozen women sift through the delicacy strand by strand. Each worker is armed with a set of tweezers to pull out every piece of feather and speck of dirt. The final product can only contain saliva.
Counterfeiting has caused Asia to invest in a technology known as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) to boost consumer confidence. RFID allows a product to be easily traced from source to the consumer. The technology is similar to a barcode system, but is more difficult to duplicate.
With RFID, every step of the laborious process, from harvesting to packaging, is tagged. The data is stored centrally with the government. “In essence the RFID becomes a certificate of authenticity”, says Yow Lock Sen, who is in charge of overseeing the government project.
The system is still being perfected, but eventually customers who have safety concerns will be able to trace the origins of the product by simply downloading a free app onto a smartphone, and scanning the RFID tag on the product.
Although it is a government research project, participation from the industry is voluntary since it requires companies to buy the RFID tags and reading equipment. Yanming Resources’s Chua Huai Gen says it’s a good investment. “With the RFID technology, consumers will know that they are getting the real thing, so we can mark up our prices by 50%,” he says.
The Chinese name for bird’s nest soup is, yàn wō (燕窝), translated literally as “swallow’s nest”.
I will be looking at the swallow’s nests in my garage with renewed interest from now on.
While genetic research brings us cloning, technology advances brings us virtual people or ‘augmented reality’. Check out this video presented by Richard Taylor from BBC Technology at the British Science Museum.
Computers to date are limited when it comes to human interaction. They lack the ability to read signs other than the words that people speak or write. But experiments by MIT and Tufts with a system known as ‘Brainput’ could change all that. This system triggers when a person becomes overloaded with work and then automatically modifies a computer interface to lighten the load. It does this by using a light, portable brain monitoring device incorporating a technology called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). The technology recognises when a person is multi-tasking and when the data is transmitted it adjusts the user’s workload.
Siri, the Apple iPhone’s virtual assistant with a female voice, is being put through her paces by British Telecom according to wired.com. Siri’s tasks which are normally confined to simple voice activated commands by the user, to set reminders, send texts or browse the internet, now include being a sort of biomedical assistant. Last month, at a Bio-IT World conference in Boston, BT’s Bas Burger used Siri to launch a mock experiment that analysed data on the new cloud service the company built specifically for life sciences R&D.
Using his mobile, Burger asked Siri to crunch some numbers on BTs cloud using a research tool called Pipeline Pilot. After authenticating Burger, Siri began the process of analysing research data. After a few seconds, Burger asked her for a status update, and she confirmed that the experiment was complete and offered to send him the results on his phone.
Siri has a long way to go before becoming a virtual scientist, but the experiment demonstrated the capacity of the cloud to speed up scientific experimentation by its ability to trawl through volumes of data.
Perhaps Siri’s new lab role might be the beginning of the end of the search for a cure for cancer.