By Nicole L. Garneau, PhD
I think we should ask the public to help shape the research agenda, help them figure out with us, what we ought to be studying so we can solve real world problems. Researchers may not be accustomed to such public interaction, but it’s crucial to the science/society relationship.
~Dr. Alan Leschner, AAAS
Real People, Real Research
Can the community be engaged in the scientific process in a meaningful way? The community-based Genetics of Taste Lab was designed specifically to include the public in both research and education through observation, participation, programming and citizen-science. The studies the Lab hosts demonstrate novel ways to connect the community to both the scientific process and authentic genetic research in a way that is meaningful, personally relevant, and increases awareness and understanding.
Pilot Study 2009-2012: The Genetics of Bitter Taste
The pilot study in the Genetics of Taste Lab focused on the gene TAS2R38, and how changes to this gene affect how humans expereince the taste of bitter. The study also worked to better understand the role of fungiform papillae on the tongue and if the number of fungiform papillae could be used as a metric for predicting sensitivity to the bitter tastant PROP. Towards this effort, the citizen scientists led by Research Coordinators Meghan Sloan and Tiffany Derr developed a new methodology called the Denver Papillae Protocol for determining FP density on the tongue.
- Education: Make the scientific process accessible and relevant to people’s lives through engaging the public in authentic research about how their unique genetic code influences their perception and choices.
- Research: Actively generate and publish new knowledge to contribute to the field of genetics and human health using a citizen-science model
Community Participation and Impact
- Community based lab is open 364 days a year for observation into real genetics lab via its location in the award-winning Expedition Health which sees ~400,000 visitors/year
- Museum guests can enhance their informal science education experience by selecting to participate as a participant in the research study (~2,600 people enrolled to date)
- Outreach programs and educational events (~12,000 people/year)
- Online dissemination through Blue Tongue Blog and digital media products (~11,000 hits/year)
- Over 100 citizen-scientists, undergraduate interns and Teen Science Scholars trained, contributing over 7,000 hours a year to education and research
1. Education: Success measured using independent evaluation of our educational goals for Museum guests and citizen scientists. The Genetics of Taste Summative Evaluation completed in 2012 showed that visitors both enjoyed their experience partipating as a research subject and learned about the relationship between DNA and taste.
2. Research: Success in research is directly measured by the ability to publish peer reviewed articles on the data collected and the analysis completed. The Health Sciences Department, led by Dr. Nicole Garneau, is currently working to submit a manuscript describing the results of the pilot study's findings.
The pilot study was funded between 2008-2012 by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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