January 31, 2018
You have probably heard of fingerprints, palm prints, iris scans, voice and facial recognition, and dental records as biometric authentication. Technology and digital information have made these types of identification quite successful. Because, as opposed to keys and keycards, your physical attributes much more difficult to lose or misplace. But researchers are always looking to push the boundaries and move technology forward. Are tongue prints the next viable step?
Anatomy of the Tongue
The tongue is the only organ housed inside the body, but that can also be thrust out for inspection. It is a muscular organ covered with pink, moist tissue called mucosa. It also has tiny finer-like bumps called papillae. These give your tongue a rough and unique texture. And on the surfaces of the papillae are thousands of taste buds. The taste buds contain a collection of nerve-like cells that send signals running to the brain. The tongue is held to the mouth by mucosa and webs of tough tissue. The front tether is called the frenum, and the tongue is anchored in the back of the mouth into the hyoid bone.
What does the tongue do?
Like your heart, the tongue is always working, making it one of the toughest muscles in the human body. It helps the mixing process of foods when you eat. It helps push saliva down the throat, even when you sleep. It binds and contorts to help pronounce sounds when you speak. It even includes the linguinal tonsils to help filter out harmful germs. The tongue also conveys information about the status and health of the individual, which is why doctors and physicians often ask individuals to stick out their tongue during a physical examination.
What is a tongue print?
In addition to being reliable proof of life, the tongue also has unique features that differ from person to person. A tongue print measures two main attributes. The first is the shape of the tongue. Some are short and some are long, but that is just the beginning. There are an astonishing number of different tongue shapes that exist. The second notable feature is texture. Tongues consist of several wrinkles, ridges, marks, and seams. These also are unique to every individual.
Chinese researchers have actually started establishing a 3D tongue image database. Tongue prints are recorded with a high-tech digital camera. The three in one sensors can reproduce images with the smallest details in varied, bright colors. Then the information is digitized and processed through a unique diagnostic software. It makes use of histograms, bar graphs, and other tools to map the individual’s tongue. And while it will be some time before local police start taking tongue and finger prints, the research for such technology is well under way.
One step further
In addition to dental records and tongue prints, another aspect of oral identification can include the bacteria in the human mouth. Researchers studying bacterium in the mouths of 100 participants identified about 400 different species of microbes. Only 2% of these species were present in everyone, with varying concentrations based on ethnicity. And 8% were found in 90% of study participants. The researchers found that each ethnic group was represented by a “signature” of microbial communities. Imagine the potential for these unique authentication tools.