The Denver Museum of Nature & Science Launches Crowdsourcing Project on Sweet Taste

Human microbiome the focus of new research investigation into sweet taste.

DENVER―Nov. 10― The Genetics of Taste Lab at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the new home to cutting-edge research on the human microbiome―the unique group of bacteria in and on each person’s body—and how it affects how we experience sweet taste. The study opened to the public for participation on Nov. 6. The scientific team, led by Museum Curator Nicole Garneau PhD, and Bowling Green State University Assistant Professor Robin Tucker PhD, RD, will use this novel model of crowdsourcing to test their hypothesis that certain compositions of mouth bacteria increases a person’s “sweet tooth,” thereby affecting overall health.

“Microbes can be found all over your body. The biggest concentrations are located in your gut, mouth, and on the surface of your skin. This collection of microbes in and on you is unlike anyone else’s and is more unique to you than your fingerprint,” Garneau said. “Delineating the human microbiome is truly the next big discovery. It’s akin to how sequencing the human genome changed the landscape of the health industry, advancing our understanding of how the body works and therefore how to diagnose and fix it when it doesn’t, “she added.

“With the community’s involvement, this study will help us understand how the microbes in a person’s mouth might actually influence how we experience sweet taste. Differences in microbial composition could be another key to understanding sweet preferences and how the microbiome affects our overall health through the foods we choose and enjoy.” Tucker added.

The Genetics of Taste Lab is a one-of-a-kind space for conducting research. It exclusively relies on members of the public to both provide population data through crowdsourcing and also conduct the analysis through the Lab’s citizen scientist program. Crowdsourcing recruits members of the public for a 30-minute enrollment session in which participants answer a few questions, swab a cheek for DNA, and taste a series of sweetened water samples. This experience is guided by citizen scientists – people who volunteer their time helping collect the data from the public participants and then help process and analyze the genetic data alongside the Lab’s scientists. The goal is to enroll 1,000 people over the course of the nine-month study. Children ages 8 to 17 are welcome to participate with a legal guardian present.

“We highly encourage family groups, large and small, close and extended, to come out and be a part of this research,” said Garneau. “And we always welcome twins and multiples, which help us answer additional questions about taste genetics.”

This is the third study for the Genetics of Taste Lab with a focus on how very small distinctions in a person’s DNA can have a huge impact on how they perceive taste and how taste relates to overall health. Visit the Genetics of Taste Lab website (www.dmns.org/genetics) for free access to all publications from the lab and to learn more about the progress of this current research.

“The Lab is committed to making scientific research accessible and personally relevant to people’s everyday lives,” Garneau said. “Actively generating and publishing new knowledge contributes to the field of genetics and human health.”

The Genetics of Taste Lab is located in Expedition Health, the Museum’s very popular exhibition about human biology, and the research is made possible by a partnership between the Health Science and Visitor Programs Departments at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the Department of Public and Allied Health at Bowling Green State University. In addition to participating in citizen-scientist projects, visitors can peer into the real working genetics lab 364 days a year. (The Museum is closed on Dec. 25.) Enrollment will be available daily on a first come-first served basis from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For large family groups, we encourage you to email [email protected] to schedule an appointment.

About the Denver Museum of Nature & Science
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the Rocky Mountain Region’s leading resource for informal science education. Our mission is to be catalyst and ignite the community’s passion for nature and science. The Museum envisions an empowered community that loves, understands, and protects our natural world. As such, a variety of engaging exhibits, discussions and activities help Museum visitors celebrate and understand the wonders of Colorado, Earth, and the universe. The Museum is located at 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO, 80205. To learn more about the Museum, visit dmns.org, or call 303-370-6000. Many of the Museum’s educational programs and exhibits are made possible in part by the citizens of the seven-county metro area through the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. Connect with the Museum on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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