Sixth sense: Scientists discover new type of taste bud cell on tongues

Mouths may be home to a multi-tasking taste bud cell able to simultaneously identify four different stimuli. Taste bud cells have traditionally thought to be capable of only detecting a specific taste: bitter, sweet, sour, salty and unami.

However, the rather versatile newly-discovered cells are able to spot sweet, sour, umami and bitter tastes, a surprising level of variety.

Future experiments will be focused on understanding how broadly responsive taste cells contribute to taste coding

Dr Kathryn Medler

Taste buds formed from three types of cells which create the experience of eating.

Type 1 cells are support cells; Type 2 cells detect bitter, sweet and umami flavours; while Type 3 cells detect sour and salty tastes.

But new research on rodents has revealed an until-now unknown subset of Type 3 cells described as being ‘broadly responsive’ to all tastes.

These cell subset are now known to have two different signalling pathways.

This allows them to respond to sourness one way and sweet, bitter and umami flavours using another.

The groundbreaking new research provides the first physical evidence of a broad-scope taste bud.

Although their contribution to the sense of sense has yet to be quantified, it is expected to be important.

The research offers new insight into how taste information is sent to the brain for processing.

And study also suggests taste buds are far more complex than understood.

Dr Kathryn Medler, of the University of Buffalo, and author of the study, said: “Taste cells can be either selective or generally responsive to stimuli which is similar to the cells in the brain that process taste information.

“Future experiments will be focused on understanding how broadly responsive taste cells contribute to taste coding.”

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The study coincides with related research that suggest adding monosodium glutamate (MSG) to healthy foods makes them more a[pealing to fussy eaters.

The researchers claim adding umami seasoning MSG in grains and vegetables will improve the flavour.

This could consequently encourage healthier eating, with fewer people opting to add as much salt to their food.

A new study by researchers from the University of California, Davis, investigated the impact that substituting salt for monosodium glutamate (MSG) can have on encouraging people to eat more healthier.

They discovered MSG can significantly reduce salt while also promoting the enjoyment of healthier foods.

Many people consume too much salt and have misperceptions about the taste of nutritious foods – which in tandem can prevent healthy eating.

The study saw volunteers taste four recipes where salt was reduced by adding MSG and dishes were described as ‘flavourful’, ‘delicious’, and ‘balanced’.

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