Nicole Garneau, PhD

Dr. Nicole Garneau is a geneticist who is interested in the way a person's DNA affects their ability to taste, and therefore their food choices and diet. The data from her research will improve our understanding of how evolution has helped us adapt as a species in order to survive, and also explain the effects of taste evolution on modern day humans. She is an advocate for women in science and making science relevant through engaging communication and outreach in the community.

Learn more about Dr. Garneau's alter ego "Yo Pearl the Science Girl" @yopearlscigirl on Twitter and by clicking the "Read My Blog" button on the right to access and the Blue Tongue Blog!

  • POSITIONCurator and Department Chair, Health Sciences
  • EXPERTISE Genetics
  • PhD

    Colorado State University

  • PHONE NUMBER303.370.6086
  • EMAIL[email protected]
  • RESUME Click to Download
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Genetics of Taste: A Flavor for Health

The genes responsible for our ability to perceive taste have been finely tuned by evolution to ensure the survival of the human race. Our body can recognize the nutrients and chemicals we put in it so that we're able to properly nourish ourselves, as well as avoid foods and substances that might be harmful.

Genetics of Taste: A Flavor for Health is a community-based, participatory research study in Lab Central in Expedition Health. Its main focus is on a gene cleverly named tas2r38, pronounced "taster 38." This is the gene that determines if you can taste the bitter compound phenylthiocarbamide(PTC) and its chemical relatives propylthiouracil (PROP) and vinylthiooxazolidon, found in vegetables like broccoli and spinach.

"We hypothesize that where your ancestors came from more than 1,000 years ago may have influenced how your tas2r38 gene evolved," said Dr. Nicole Garneau. "If your ancestors came from a part of the world that had toxic, bitter-tasting plants, you would have the ability to taste the bitterness, and that ability to distinguish between edible and poisonous plants would have meant survival."

The study is also questioning how tas2r38, as well as the amount of taste buds a person has, plays a role in the lives of modern humans. The health sciences team is particularly interested in how the ability to taste may or may not influence how much we eat. In the study, participants' tongues are temporarily stained with a bright blue dye, allowing the taste bud density to be easily counted.

"Some people have up to 10 times the number of taste buds others do. One hypothesis is the more you can taste, the quicker your mouth signals your brain to stop eating and might be a factor in your overall body composition," Dr. Garneau said.

Genetics of Taste is a thriving example of community-based research. The research questions about taste and health were selected by the public, and the study is now carried out by dedicated volunteer citizen-scientists. Museum visitors are the research participants, which will allow for an unprecedented sample size of subjects, providing information from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Over the next few years, data will be collected, analyzed, and submitted for publication in a scientific journal.

Get Involved

If you are 18 years of age or older, you can actually participate in our research. Just stop by the lab in Expedition Health and ask a volunteer with a lab coat on to tell you more. This visitor experience is free with Museum admission, and is subject to the availability of our citizen-scientists working in the lab that day.

Denver Teen Science Scholars

The Denver Museum Teen Science Scholars program is open to students from Colorado high schools who demonstrate through essay and interview their determination to be successful and committed to science. The scholars experience hands-on opportunities to work with the Museum's curators and participate in the scientific process. They also receive encouragement to seek careers in the sciences. The program particularly seeks students whose access to resources may be limited or nonexistent.

The students may select from one of three disciplines: paleontology, zoology, or health sciences. Dr. Nicole Garneau is the mentor for the health sciences students. The scholars work with Dr. Garneau on the Genetics of Taste: A Flavor for Health research project in Lab Central in Expedition Health.  The students extract and process DNA for gene sequencing and ancestry analysis.

"I've always loved math and science, but I wasn't sure what I could do with it," said Kaitlin Ching, a 2010 Teen Science Scholar. "This program gives me the opportunity to look at the big issues in the world of science, so I know what to concentrate on when I go to college next year."

Get Involved

Click here if you or someone you know is interested in applying for the Denver Museum Teen Science Scholars program.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is hosting a summer internship position in their Health Sciences’ molecular biology lab, collaborating with Dr. Nicole Garneau, curator of human health. The selected candidate will be given an independent project studying how genetics affect an individual’s taste to complete. This unpaid internship will allow for a flexible schedule, requiring only two days of laboratory time a week over a period of eight weeks. The program will conclude with the creation of a poster to present at the Museum’s annual summer intern poster symposium on Tuesday, August 20, 2013.

For more information, please see the CBSA Internship Flyer.


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