How do we taste sugar, bacon and coffee? Science finds a surprising answer

ScienceDaily | 1/9/2018 | Staff
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Until now, many scientists believed that a single protein -- TRPM5 -- acted as a gatekeeper for tasting these delectable foods. Remove TRPM5 from a person's taste cells, and they would no longer be able to identify sweet, bitter or savory (also called umami) foods.

A new study challenges this thinking. The research, which will be published the week of Jan. 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Early Edition, finds that a second protein -- TRPM4 -- performs a similar role in the taste system.

Experiments - Mice - TRPM4 - Drank - Sugar

In experiments, mice who had TRPM4 drank sugar water enthusiastically and enjoyed a savory treat. They also recoiled from quinine, a bitter compound. Mice who were missing the protein on their taste cells had a more difficult time detecting sweet, bitter and savory flavors.

"Our research shows that there is redundancy in the taste system," says lead researcher Kathryn Medler, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. "This is important because taste is actually central to our survival. If you can't taste something bitter, you might gobble up something that's poisonous without ever knowing that it could be harmful."

Taste - Senses

"Taste, in general, is one of our underappreciated senses," she adds.

In addition to Medler and Banik, the authors of the new PNAS study include graduate student Laura E. Martin and Assistant Professor Ann-Marie Torregrossa, both in the UB Department of Psychology, and Marc Freichel at Universitat Heidelberg in Germany.

Study - Dogma - Field - Bitter - Sweet

"Our study changes a central dogma in the field -- that detecting bitter, sweet and umami stimuli is dependent on the presence of TRPM5 alone," says Debarghya Dutta Banik, the study's first author and a PhD candidate in biological sciences at the University at Buffalo. "This research helps us understand how...
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