Sweet Updates

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Dr. Robin Tucker, one of the awesome researchers at Purdue we partnered with on the Fatty Acid Taste Study, was able to share some of our preliminary results at the Experimental Biology Conference in Boston at the end of March.  She is not only an accomplished scientist (now a professor at Bowling Green State University), but a champion of public engagement. For these reasons and more, we are launching our next study, the Sweet Tasting Study, with Dr. Tucker once more as our collaborator.  See her guest blog below to learn more about the results of the Fatty Acid Study and to get your first taste of the Sweet Tasting Study set to Launch in November 2015.

Sweet Updates! 
By Dr. Robin Tucker of Bowling Green State University

Taste scientists are in a heated debate about whether fatty acids have their own, unique taste. The Fatty Acid Taste Study, a partnership between DMNS and Purdue University, was designed to contribute population data to this on-going dispute, hoping to once and for all prove that fatty acids do have a taste. For the past year and a half, the citizen scientists in the Genetics of Taste Lab have been collecting the data, including taste intensity test results from various concentrations of linoleic acid taste strips, to see if this hypothesis is supported.

Our main question we hoped to answer from this large population data was: can people reliably rate the taste intensity of linoleic acid? After conducting the largest ever fat taste study by testing hundreds of people from ages 8 to 90, we believe we have the scientific evidence to prove they can! We found that participants rated the two highest concentrations as significantly more intense than the lowest concentration, indicating that humans do indeed have threshold for this taste. Not only that, we found out that taste sensitivity to linoleic acid is not universal:

  1. Body Fat Percentage does not affect the ability to taste linoleic acid: No real differences were seen between lean and obese participants
  2. AGE matters! Younger participants (kids) were more sensitive than adults.  Prior to our study, there was nothing known about the sensitivities of children to fat taste compared to adults – this is new knowledge that we created! 
  3. Gender matters! Females were more sensitive than males.
  4. What you just ate matters: People who had recently had a higher fat meal were less sensitive than those who had lower fat meals just before testing.  
These results were presented at the Experimental Biology Meeting in Boston in March, with over 14,000 scientists attended the meeting we got great exposure for not only the data but the citizen science and crowdsourcing models as well!  
(You can read the abstract to the poster Robin presented at the Experimental Biology Conference here.)

We are excited to share that these data have been written up and submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal for publication. Stay tuned!

What’s next?
Because we had such a great experience working together, scientifically, professionally and personally, we thought about how we might partner again.  We came up with an idea to explore how the bacteria in your mouth (called the oral microbiome) influence our ability to taste and our health.

A great deal of scientific and public interest has developed around the gut microbiome – think about the interest in pre- and probiotics for digestive health – but much less is known about the oral microbe. What we do know is that the ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria is important for health. When there is too much of a certain species of bacteria, S. noxia, in the mouth, your risk for health problems like obesity and periodontal disease may increase. Because S. noxia feeds off of sugars, we want to see if differences in S. noxia ratios impacts sweet taste. We will also be able to determine if families and friends share similarities in their S. noxia ratios compared to unrelated individuals. This is especially interesting to me because since I graduated from Purdue and began work at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, I’ve been exploring various aspects of sweet taste. While the DMNS study takes place, I’m hoping to conduct a longitudinal study to see how S. noxia ratios change over time. This will be a nice complement to the DMNS cross sectional study and allow us to, hopefully, make stronger conclusions.

We really are entering uncharted territory with this study; I know of no studies that have examined how the composition of the oral microbiota influences taste. We might not observe any differences, but then again we might! I am really excited to get this new study under way!
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