Genetics of Taste is the first community scientist-driven human genetics lab in the country

Humans are 99.9% genetically identical. The 0.1% is what makes us different—in ways you can see, and in ways you can’t. The Genetics of Taste team studies how these small differences in our DNA have a huge impact on the way we taste. Curious? Watch in real life! Peek into our lab 364 days a year. We are located in the back of the award-winning exhibition Expedition Health, on Level 2 of the Museum. The Genetics of Taste research is funded in part by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (R25OD021909).

Staff

Nicole L. Garneau, PhD

Associate Curator and Health Sciences Department Chair

Tiffany Nuessle, MA

Research Manager in the Genetics Lab

Anjelica Miranda

Lab Assistant

Courtney J. Scheskie, MA

Business Support Specialist


Genes and Grains

The Genes and Grains Study ran from November 2018 to August 2019. 1,451 participants were enrolled with the help of 23 community scientists. The study was supported by a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health (Award # R25OD021909).

OUR QUESTION

  • Do YOU taste whole wheat differently because of YOUR unique DNA?

OUR HYPOTHESES

  • The variation of TAS2R4 gene you have will play a significant role in how much you like whole wheat and how strongly you taste it.
  • People with different variations of the TAS2R4 gene will prefer different types of wheat.

RESULTS

  • We finished the DNA work and are moving onto statistics! Check back later for results!

Savory and Sour

The Savory and Sour Study ran from November 2017 to August 2018. 1,451 participants were enrolled with the help of 23 community scientists. The study was supported by a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health (Award # R25OD021909).

OUR QUESTION

  • Does adding sour (acidity) change our detection of umami taste?
  • What role do our genes play in our detection of sour and umami taste?

STUDY BACKGROUND

  • Umami (also known as savory) is the fifth taste. It is the taste of glutamate, an amino acid, found in many food sources, such as meat, mushrooms, and aged cheese. Umami-rich foods and sour foods are often combined in meals around the world, so we were curious to study whether sour has an effect on how we taste umami, and whether genetics plays a role.   

OUR HYPOTHESIS

  • Increasing the concentration of sour in a sample (while leaving the umami concentration constant) will increase the perception of umami.

RESULTS

  • We have completed the DNA analysis and are almost done with a manuscript. We’ll update the website once it is published!

The Science of Sour

The Science of Sour Study ran from November 2016 to August 2017. 1,791 participants were enrolled with the help of 24 community scientists. The study was supported by a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health (Award # R25OD021909).

OUR QUESTION

  • What role do genes play in how strongly we detect sour taste?

STUDY BACKGROUND

  • Sour is one of the five basic tastes, yet scientists know little about how we perceive it. And, not all sours are the same. Different sours have different levels of acidity, and some are perceived to be stronger than others even at the same concentration. We worked to determine if variation in how strongly you taste different sours is due to your genetic makeup.

OUR HYPOTHESIS

  • Different people will taste sours differently. Some may be more sensitive to one sour than another because of genetic variations.

RESULTS

  • We are currently performing DNA analysis on two genes, one that has been connected to sour taste intensity, and one that has been connected to sour preference.

A Sweet-Tasting Study

The Sweet-Tasting Study ran from November 2015 to August 2016. 1,112 participants enrolled with the help of 18 community scientists. 

OUR QUESTION

  • How do the bacteria in your mouth (called the oral microbiome) influence your ability to taste sweet and affect your overall health?
  • How do the taste of sweet and the bacteria in your mouth interact?

RESULTS

  • “Sweet likers”—those whose preference for sweet increased with concentration—and “sweet dislikers”—those whose preference for sweet decrease with concentration—did not differ in age, sex, BMI or body fat percentage.
  • Adult “sweet likers” drank less water and more sweetened juice and tea than other adults.

OUR PUBLICATIONS

 

Fatty Acid Taste

The Fatty Acid Taste Study ran from November 2014 to August 2015. 1,020 participants enrolled with the help of 29 community scientists. This two-year study was led by Nicole Garneau, PhD, and Richard Mattes, PhD, and made possible by a partnership between the Health Science Department at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the Nutrition Science Department at Purdue University.

OUR QUESTION

  • Are people able to detect different amounts of linoleic acid (a fatty acid) when their sense of smell is blocked?

RESULTS

  • People are able to detect the taste of fatty acids while blocking their ability to smell, but to different degrees.
  • There was no link between body fat percentage and the ability to detect the linoleic acid taste.
  • Women were much better than men at discerning the taste, and young people 17 and under, especially girls, were better than older people.
  • With these results, we helped with one step in the taste determination process: demonstrating perception of fat taste without the sense of smell.

Bitter Taste

The Bitter Study was the first study conducted in the Genetics of Taste Lab. This pilot was a replication of previous studies done on the bitter compound propylthiouracil (PROP) and the TAS2R38 gene.  Previous studies showed that variations in the TAS2R38 gene, the number of bumps on one’s tongue (called fungiform papillae), sex, and age play a role on if one can detect PROP and, if so, how strongly.

OUR QUESTIONS

  • Does variation of the TAS2R38 gene play a role in the perception of propylthiouracil (PROP)?
  • Does fungiform papillae (FP) density correlate PROP perception?
  • Can a community science model be used to conduct sound scientific research?

RESULTS

  • We confirmed previous findings that age, sex, and variation of TAS2R38 gene play a role in PROP taste. 
  • We couldn’t replicate the finding that fungiform papilla density correlates to PROP intensity ratings.

NOTABLE FIRSTS

  • We created a best method for counting fungiform papillae, which is now used in many taste labs around the world!
  • For the first time, a volunteer community scientist partnered with staff to write a manuscript!
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