The Download: Inside the fierce, messy fight over “healthy” sugar tech

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Inside the fierce, messy fight over “healthy” sugar tech

In a former insurance office building on the outskirts of Charlottesville, Virginia, a new kind of sugar factory is taking shape. Bonumose, a startup funded in part by Hershey, is developing the facility. It uses maltodextrin, a corn product that is often found in junk food. Maltodextrin, which is calorically very similar to high-fructose corn sugar (sucrose), can cause worse blood sugar spikes than sucrose.

But for Bonumose maltodextrin doesn’t count as an ingredient. It’s a raw matter. It will become a “rare sugar” when it is poured into the company’s sparkling bioreactors later in the year. It is found naturally in small amounts in fruits, grains, and milk. It is almost as sweet as sucrose, but with half the calories. Hershey claims that Bonumose’s technology to convert maltodextrin to tagatose at commercial scales is crucial to its efforts to create “better for you” candies.

Bonumose was created by Yi-Heng “Percival” Zhang at Virginia Tech. Zhang isn’t proudly at Bonumose today, nor is he formulating healthy chocolate. In January, MIT Technology Review met Zhang in Tianjin, China. He had just completed a two-year sentence in Virginia for conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice. The global fight to control sugar is already underway. Read the complete story .

–Mark Harris

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The US might be in the middle of a covid wave right now
Without even realizing, due to a lack of testing. (Bloomberg $)
Infections keep rising and rising in Shanghai, despite a local lockdown. (SCMP)
Residents trapped indoors are begging for food on WeChat groups. (Rest of World)
More than 50 people have tested positive following an A-list political dinner last week. (NYT $)
But Dr Anthony Fauci is confident President Biden is protected against the virus. (The Guardian)

2 Elon Musk isn’t joining Twitter’s board after all
Which, to echo CEO Parag Agrawal, is probably for the best. (WP $)
His tweets in the last few days have been erratic. (CNN)

3 Putin superfans are praising him as a peace-loving hero in Facebook groups

These pages rack up millions of interactions a month. (BBC)
Smartphones and gym mats helped Ukrainians to defend Kiev. (FT $)
What an American has learnt from fighting in Ukraine’s foreign legion. (The Economist $)

4 The crypto industry is pushing for more lenient legislation


And it’s working. (NYT $)
Crypto is a taxation minefield. (Protocol)
The world’s first city-cryptostate for investors and enthusiasts sounds exhausting. (FT $)

5 The remarkable brain of a carpet cleaner who speaks 24 languages
His brain uses oxygen much more efficiently than our non-polyglot gray matter. (WP $)
The first reference charts for brain development have been completed. (The Economist $)

6 Why Amazon’s drone ambitions never really got off the ground
Former employees claim its rapid testing cuts corners when it comes to safety. (Bloomberg $)
Amazon has a huge sustainability problem: its returns. (CNBC)

7 What happens when humans get blamed for decisions made by faulty software?
Our blind faith in computers is leading to miscarriages of justice. (FT $)

8 We’re inventing new terms to get around social media moderation
Like most things these days, it’s spearheaded by trying to appease TikTok’s all-powerful algorithm. (WSJ $)

9 Producing tiny microchips is bigger business than ever
We desperately need more chips, and Intel wants to deliver them. (NYT $)
BMW believes the chip shortage shows no sign of slowing before 2023. (Reuters)

10 South Asia’s brides-to-be are shopping for wedding outfits through WhatsApp
But it’s a risky endeavor–assessing fabric color and quality is harder over video. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“This virus is not scary, the scary thing is being in a complete lockdown.”

–A woman from Shanghai who has tested positive for covid fears being taken away from her infant son amid the city’s indefinite lockdown, according to Quartz.

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