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Matter of Taste
03 April 2016

Matter of Taste

Tasting the difference between bitter and sweet might guide us around a box of chocolates, but it’s also essential to how we evolved – early mammals survived by choosing energy-packed sweet foods over bitter tasting poisons. Inside this brain, from a young mouse, researchers investigated how brain cells (neurons) react to different tastes. Taste receptors on the tongue send flavour-filled signals to a region of the brain called the gustatory cortex. Its neurons (genetically-engineered here to produce colours) light up differently after bitter (red) or sweet (green) tastes. The team were able to trick the mouse into guzzling down or completely avoiding a drink of water simply by triggering these sweet or bitter brain zones. Like mice, it’s likely that certain tastes are hardwired into our brains at birth – although we can train ourselves to go against these instincts, perhaps developing a fondness for bitter chocolate over sickly-sweet soft centres.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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