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Obesity and the taste system

Robin Dando, Ph.D., Department of Food Science, Cornell University

Date and Location

When (Date/Time)

September 28, 2017, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Where

252 Erickson Food Science Building

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Taste is a fundamental biological mechanism used to sense nutrients or toxins in food.  A number of reports detail evidence that the ability to taste is weakened in obesity.  However, no study has investigated a causal relationship between obesity and taste; are those born with a weak sense of taste doomed to become obese, or does taste weaken with weight gain?  Further, very few studies have investigated the molecular effects of obesity on the physiology of taste, or if losing taste can change eating habits. Recently, our lab has demonstrated that weight gain can in fact induce a loss of taste in a longitudinal study design, and that such a weakening of taste can encourage the selection of more intensely tasting, thus usually higher calorie foods.  Finally, we were able to show that chronic low-grade inflammation brought on by an obesogenic diet reduces the abundance of taste buds in mice, by upsetting the balance of turnover (renewal and death) of taste cells.  This is likely the cause of taste dysfunction seen in obese populations, and thus may have great relevance to human health, the treatment of obesity, and future strategies for the food industry.