University of Colorado Scientists Have a Taste for DNA

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By Nicole Garneau, PhD

Our Genetics of Taste laboratory is first and foremost a community lab with the goal of making real scientific research accessible to the public, something we take pride in here at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Although we only study one small part of taste- the ability to taste specific bitter compounds- we are interested in bringing all aspects of flavor perception to our Museum guests and volunteers. To that end, we are so lucky to have a group of taste and smell scientists right here in the Denver area, The Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center.

We recently invited three of the head researchers and their laboratory scientists and students over to the Museum to tour the Genetics of Taste lab and to learn more about our community-based study. As you'll see from the following pictures, a visit to our lab is directly proportional to an increase of blue tongues world-wide and an increase in a love for science (no stats to prove this, but I'm sure it's statistically significant).

As you can see, Dr. Ernie Salcedo's lab most definitely had a good time. When not posing with their blazing blue tongues on display, they spend their time studying the sense of smell, or olfaction. They are interested in understanding how the chemical information of odors from the environment is converted into an electrochemical signal that our brain can recognize.

An additional six tongues, from Dr. Linda Barlow's laboratory, were swabbed for the full effort of the tour. If you've ever wondered how we get the unique pattern of bumps on our tongue, this is the group to explain it. The Barlow lab studies how the taste system develops in embryos, and how this system is maintained and regenerated in adults.

Finally, Dr. Tom Finger's group visited after the joint lecture he and I presented recently with Chef Ian Kleinman, called "Genes and Cuisines that Reign Supreme". There we learned about one of Dr. Finger's research interests, and of course its one we have in common, taste. While we in the Genetics of Taste lab are working toward understanding taste and health at the population level , the Finger lab is looking at how we detect chemicals in our environment and in our food at the molecular level and how the brain then processes this information.

For more information about the Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center, click here.

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