Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Integr. Neurosci., 27 May 2014 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2014.00033

Crowdsourcing taste research: genetic and phenotypic predictors of bitter taste perception as a model

  • 1Genetics of Taste Lab, Department of Health Sciences, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver, CO, USA
  • 2Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, CO, USA
  • 3Sensory Evaluation Center, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
  • 4Department of Food Science, College of Agricultural Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

Understanding the influence of taste perception on food choice has captured the interest of academics, industry, and the general public, the latter as evidenced by the extent of popular media coverage and use of the term supertaster. Supertasters are highly sensitive to the bitter tastant propylthiouracil (PROP) and its chemical relative phenylthiocarbamide. The well-researched differences in taste sensitivity to these bitter chemicals are partially controlled by variation in the TAS2R38 gene; however, this variation alone does not explain the supertaster phenomenon. It has been suggested that density of papillae, which house taste buds, may explain supertasting. To address the unresolved role of papillae, we used crowdsourcing in the museum-based Genetics of Taste Lab. This community lab is uniquely situated to attract both a large population of human subjects and host a team of citizen scientists to research population-based questions about human genetics, taste, and health. Using this model, we find that PROP bitterness is not in any way predicted by papillae density. This result holds within the whole sample, when divided into major diplotypes, and when correcting for age, sex, and genotype. Furthermore, it holds when dividing participants into oft-used taster status groups. These data argue against the use of papillae density in predicting taste sensitivity and caution against imprecise use of the term supertaster. Furthermore, it supports a growing volume of evidence that sets the stage for hypergeusia, a reconceptualization of heightened oral sensitivity that is not based solely on PROP or papillae density. Finally, our model demonstrates how community-based research can serve as a unique venue for both study participation and citizen science that makes scientific research accessible and relevant to people’s everyday lives.

Keywords: genetics, taste, citizen science, crowdsourcing, TAS2R38

Citation: Garneau NL, Nuessle TM, Sloan MM, Santorico SA, Coughlin BC and Hayes JE (2014) Crowdsourcing taste research: genetic and phenotypic predictors of bitter taste perception as a model. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 8:33. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2014.00033

Received: 26 February 2014; Paper pending published: 23 March 2014;
Accepted: 07 April 2014; Published online: 27 May 2014.

Edited by:

Patricia M. Di Lorenzo, Binghamton University, USA

Reviewed by:

Osborne F. Almeida, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Germany (in collaboration with Mazen Harb)
Emilia Iannilli, University of Dresden Medical School, Germany
Jeannine Delwiche, Mead Johnson Nutrition, USA

Copyright © 2014 Garneau, Nuessle, Sloan, Santorico, Coughlin and Hayes. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Nicole L. Garneau, Genetics of Taste Lab, Department of Health Sciences, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, 2001 Colorado Boulevard, Denver, CO 80205, USA e-mail: ngarneau@dmns.org