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Complicated Science Understood

Brianna Wolle

Genetics of Taste, the first community-run science lab in America, makes genetics more understandable to the general public. Located in Expedition Health, a permanent exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, museum visitors can look in, see research progress, and participate in it.
Since 2009, when it opened, over 3000 participants have taken part in their experiment studying the relationship between genetics and taste. 
"Your DNA is like a cookbook for your body," said Dr. Nicole Garneau, a curator for Genetics of Taste. Out of over 25,000 genes (which are like the recipes) in your body, they're focusing on one right now: TAS2R38 (pronounced "taster 38").This gene tells how much bitter you taste. They're studying how people with different ancestries can taste bitter or not.
It's really neat how the public can be involved. Citizen scientists (volunteers from the community who are passionate about science and research) come in, have training, and help conduct the research.
Also, museum visitors 18 or older can be research subjects. As one, you'll have a taste test, stand on a fancy measuring scale, and have your tongue painted blue so scientists can count the papillae (which contain your taste buds) on it. A cheek swab you do gives scientists a sample of your cells, which DNA can be extracted from, connecting your ability to taste bitter with your genetics.
The "bitter" study at Genetics of Taste ends August 4th, with a new study of tasting fat starting in October. The exciting part is kids eight and older can then participate with their families! They're especially encouraging families and twins to join in.
"Education is equally important to us as research is," Nicole Garneau said. You'll definitely learn something at Genetics of Taste, so check it out next time you're at the DMNS.