AChemS 2010, Day 4: Birth of Venus and Undesirable Sugar

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By Nicole Garneau, PhD

What a day! There were so many fantastic posters today that I can't possibly report all of them. Luckily, so many researchers I spoke with were receptive to the idea of chatting more, so I've got some great information for future posts.

For now though, let's talk about Dali. There was a stint of time this afternoon that was wide open for exploring St. Pete's. I used the time to take in the works of Salvador Dali at the Dali Museum. I know this is a taste blog, but humor me while I address the sense of sight. Not a huge fan of Dali's surrealism, I today developed a newfound respect for the artist during my time at the museum. His work was surprisingly far-reaching and very diverse. There were paintings from his early teenage years that were truly extraordinary as he tried his hand at emulating some of the greats (Picasso and the like).

And yes, he does have a painting called the Birth of Venus, but that's not what this post will address. What I found there, in a section of the museum displaying gold jewelry and eccentric plates and utensils, was an unfinished oil painting on a gold cup, also entitled the Birth of Venus. The inscription, which you'll find below, was kindly given to me by a helpful docent there. I think, you will find it incredibly interesting.

You can see why I was so excited, I had no idea that the huge piece of topaz we have in our exhibit "Gems and Minerals" was originally part of a proposed piece of art.

This gem (pun surely intended) of a find today in the realm of surrealism, nicely leads me to another interesting tidbit  I stumbled upon. The story goes like this, I invited a stray pair of scientists to join me for lunch a few days ago, as the seating was full and I didn't need to have an entire table to myself. In a lovely turn of events, the stray scientists were in fact some of the pioneering researchers of the gene Tas2r38, Linda Bartoshuk and Stephen Wooding.

The tidbit? Taste-altering consumables.

The first, called miracle fruit, I originally heard about from fellow curator David Grinspoon over coffee one Friday morning. I had completely forgotten about it until Steve and Linda began telling me about this thing called "Miracle Food" (or so I thought they said). They explained to me that it heightened the perception of sweet, making lemons taste like lemonade for example, and lemonade taste like, well like a sickeningly sweet liquid.

Tonight at the poster session however, I spoke with some other folks and they were talking about "frooties". I had no idea what a frootie was. "It's miracle fruit" I was told. Ah! Not miracle food, but fruit. So speaking of senses, maybe I need to have my ears checked.

So miracle fruit parties, where people experience tastes on a whole new level are all the rage it seems. What I imagine isn't, is the second tidbit, gynemic acid. You used to be able to get this in a gum form, but you can't anymore, only in tablets. Why wouldn't you want to have a gynemic acid party one might ask... well besides the fact that it just doesn't sound cool, it doesn't taste cool either. It takes away taste, so that sugar will feel like you are eating sand!

And well, as much I wanted to share more science with you I've reached my writing limit yet again, and sand reminds me that I'll be leaving the silky white sands of the gulf coast tomorrow to head back to what I hear has been a rainy spell in Denver.

So until next year, signing off from AChemS 2010 one last time,
- Nicole

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