Gilbert Levin has had sweet dreams for a long time. Levin is the president and founder of Biospherics Inc., a Beltsville, Md.-based environmental and health technology company. For nearly two decades, he has sought a noncaloric sweetener boasting both the bulk of table sugar and the ability to withstand cooking heat--in short, the ultimate food additive.

Now he thinks he's found it, in a sugar called tagatose. He and the other Biospherics scientists who have studied the tagatose molecule hope to prove the substance's usefulness as a noncaloric sweetener and find a cheap way to produce it in large quantities. This spring, three of the company's scientists received a patent for what they say is a low-cost method of synthesizing the sugar.

Chemical compounds can exist in forms that are mirror images of each other. Like gloves, they can be either left-handed or right-handed.

Sugars are such "handed" molecules. Human...

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