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Science maps the different categories of taste

Researchers have located the neurons in our brain responsible for how we taste.

Science maps the different categories of taste

Salty, bitter, sour, sweet and unami are the five different groups of taste, and despite what we learned in school, our tongue map has very little to do with how we experience these flavours.

A study by a team at Columbia University, which was published in Nature has shown there to be separate taste sensors on the tongue that have a matching partner in the brain.

Humans have roughly 8,000 buds on their tongue that are capable of experiencing this whole range of flavour at any part of the tongue. However, specialist cells within the buds send signals to our brain that then tells us how to process the taste. While it is still being debated how the brain deals with this information, the research shows that it is our brain largely in control of how things taste, not our tongue.

The study, which was done on mice, involved genetically engineering them in a way so that their taste neurons lit up when activated. The mice were then fed certain chemicals designed to trigger each of the five taste responses. It is from this that the researchers were able to observe a wired connection between tongue and brain.

“The cells were beautifully tuned to discrete individual taste qualities, so you have a very nice match between the nature of the cells in your tongue and the quality they represent in the brain,” told researcher at Columbia University Professor Charles Zuker.

These findings do more than just disprove an old primary school lesson; researchers are also hoping to use what they know to help reverse loss of taste in the elderly.

Our tongue produces new cells every two weeks, however this process becomes weaker in time, meaning food gradually becomes less enjoyable as we age.

“These findings provide an interesting avenue to help deal with this problem because you have to have a clear understanding of how taste is functioning so you could imagine ways of enhancing that function,” said Professor Zuker.

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One Comment on Science maps the different categories of taste

  • jeanniebliss
    November 12, 2014 9:07 am

    I am 69 and thank god my taste buds are fine!
    you even put my very favourite fruit flan on line
    my mouth is watering at the sight
    can almost taste it what a delight
    just felt I had to drop you a line
    Mindfood read every day on-line
    Jeannie bliss

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