Linda Bartoshuk

Nobel Conference 46

Linda Bartoshuk, Ph.D., Presidential Endowed Professor of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science, University of Florida, Gainesville

Linda Bartoshuk is an internationally known researcher specializing in the chemical senses of taste and smell. Her research explores genetic variations in taste perception and how those variations affect the food people choose and, as a result, shape their health.

Bartoshuk earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from Carleton College, Northfield, Minn. (B.A., 1960), after starting in astronomy but discovering she was more interested in the sensory differences exhibited among classmates when comparing the brightness of various stars. After completing a Ph.D. at Brown University, Providence, R.I. (1965), she worked at the Natick Army Research labs (where research related to food for military personnel is conducted) and then went to the Pierce Foundation and Yale University in New Haven, Conn. She joined the University of Florida faculty in 2005. Her research into taste and smell is in the domain of the UF College of Dentistry.

Bartoshuk has received a variety of research awards and has served in several leadership positions in her field. She was named to the American Psychological Association (APA) Board of Scientific Affairs and presented lectures as an APA Distinguished Scientist Lecturer. She has been president of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemC) and two divisions of APA. In 1998 she received the AChemC Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Chemical Senses. Bartoshuk has been elected to membership in the Society of Experimental Psychology, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences.

Topic

Variation in sensation and affect: We live in “different taste worlds”

Foods do not taste the same to all of us. Some of the variation is genetic and some is due to common pathologies. The magnitude of that variation was hidden from us for many years because of limitations in the psychophysical tools used to measure sensory intensity. Psychophysical advances now let us see that variation and link it to behaviors (e.g., dietary choices, smoking, drinking) that impact health. Of special importance for this conference, our behavior toward food reflects our perceptions of its palatability. The measurement of palatability has been as flawed as our measurement of taste, but we are making progress. With regard to genetic variation, we have found that some individuals (supertasters) not only find tastes to be 2 to 3 times as intense as do their less endowed (with tastebuds) colleagues but also experience more intense likes and dislikes for food. With regard to pathology, we have found that a history of middle ear infections damages taste (one taste nerve travels through the middle ear on its way to the brain) such that fat sensations are intensified (a central release of inhibition mechanism). This sensory alteration leads to enhancement of the palatability of energy dense foods with resulting weight gain.