How do we sense sweetness? What affects how we perceive sugars? Why does that cookie taste so much sweeter to me than it does to my friend? Can you change how sweet is sweet? These are just a handful of questions that may be answered with the nine-month sweet study being conducted right now at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
"Our educated guess, or hypothesis, is that your ability to detect and like sweet is not only determined by your human genes, but that it's also determined by or altered by the unique group of microbes in your mouth," says Dr. Nicole Garneau, who is leading the study along with Dr. Robin Tucker in the museum's Genetics of Taste Lab.
Basically, the study looks into how the different bacteria in your mouth react to and work with the taste sensation of sweet. By collecting mouth swabs, Dr. Garneau is observing the amount of bacteria, such as Selenomonas noxia, each subject has. The hope is to discover if the bacteria alter taste ability and if that is related to overall health.
Sound neat? Well guess what: The team is crowdsourcing museum guests and anyone over the age of eight to be part of the study. All you have to do is obtain a ticket to the museum and head to the second-floor Genetics of Taste Lab inside Expedition Health. There you find a person in a lab coat (aka a citizen scientist) who will help you sign up. You can also get a group of friends and/or family and make a reservation to do the study together. The researchers are actually looking to collect family data, so if grandma, dad and sis want to join in the scientific fun, the more the merrier.
The process takes approximately 30 minutes and involves three swabs, five sugar-water samples and an iPad with a questionnaire. It's completely anonymous, though you do get to take home a snap shot of yourself holding a plush microbe in front of the data board.
This is the third study the lab has conducted on the subject of taste. The first, 2009 through 2013, was on bitter senses; then a fatty acid study ran from 2013 to 2015. This is the shortest of the three, but Dr. Garneau is confident they will get the 1,000 to 1,500 participants in the time frame. After all, she says, people tend to like sweet.