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A brewery in the Czech Republic is using a most peculiar kind of sensors to preserve the purity of water—crayfish.
The modernization of winemaking and brewing keeps making headlines. The strict temperature control over the fermentation of wine through precise measurements has been established for a long time, while the use of drones and artificial vision to ensure that the grape achieves the desired level of ripeness will soon be a reality. Breweries also increasingly opting for high tech to improve its produce. An example of this trend would be a Czech beer brewery that, in order to improve its production processes, is making use of live crustaceans. And it’s not about about food pairings.
Contrary to popular belief, one of the key elements for a quality ale is not so much the grain or yeast as the purity of the water used in the process. The slightest variation in the latter can lead to substantial changes in the taste of the resulting drink. Thus, the experts at Protivin, a brewery in South Bohemia, have resorted to crayfish to monitor any changes in the quality of the water. Each specimen carries its own sensors to measure variables such as their heart rate or movements. The reaction of one of them wouldn’t suggest a change in the chemical composition of the water. If three of them, however, change their behavior in a similar manner, any problems can be detected at a very early stage—within ninety seconds.
The main advantage of this system, developed and patented by scientists at the Faculty of Fisheries and Protection of Water at South Bohemia University at Vodnany, is that it allows to detect non-specific alterations. In other words, a standard sensor can measure variations in the level of iron or limestone in the water, but it will not be as efficient to detect general changes in its chemical composition such as bacteria or surfactants among other elements. “We are using crayfish like a living chemical laboratory – like a bio indicator and bio sensor together,” pointed out Pavel Kozak, Director of the university’s Research Institute of Fish Culture and Hydrobiology. The goal in the medium term is to implement advanced cameras that allow to monitor the animal’s hearts.
Animals are usually the first to sense an incoming earthquake and run for their lives. A few years ago, NASA explained this phenomenon through the chemical changes that take place in the hours and even days prior to an earth tremor. In fact, in China the animals in a zoo are used as a seismographer of sorts. Besides this kind of “sixth sense”, the fact that animals react collectively when facing dangerous situations opens the door to the study of any variations in their usual behavior to detect events such as wildfires. A decade ago a scientific paper proposed the use of animals as Mobile Biological Sensors or MBS in forests. GPS trackers, attached to some specimens, could be used together with thermal and infrared sensors. The former would allow to detect sudden and unexpected movements that could suggest stampedes in the face of wildfires, while the latter could signal changes in the infrared spectrum owing to potential fires. These localizers would also be helpful to combat poachers and unwanted predators. Snakes, eagles and rabbits were some of the candidates to carry these devices.
Regardless of the range of practical applications that animals may have as bio sensors, they will always play a vital role—their health and survival are the best indicator for ecosystem health.