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Scientists May Have Discovered A Sixth Taste

Evan Lorne/Shutterstock

Evan Lorne/Shutterstock

It is commonly accepted that we humans can identify five tastes namely, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. The first four have been known for a long long period of time and it was   Democritus, the Ancient Greek philosopher who described the last of them, bitter, nearly2.5 thousand years ago. However, Umami, was only “discovered” in 1908. Even then, it wasn’t recognized by scientists and It was in the year of 2002 when umami (meaning “delicious” or “yummy” in Japanese) was “officially” recognized.

At present, based on the latest study carried out by scientists from the University of UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Korea, the sixth taste, calcium, could be added to the list.

So, what does calcium taste like? Obviously, people term it as being slightly bitter and sour. You might want to think about foods with high content of calcium such as milk (or anything else dairy), kale, and sardines.

The important thing to know about calcium is that too much or too little of the stuff can be dangerous. This means that being able to sense (read: taste) calcium could be essential for our survival.

This new research had been published in the science journal Neuron, and scientists used vinegar flies for their study. Like humans, such organism can taste calcium and need an optimal amount of calcium to survive. Yet while they tend to reject to foods high in calcium, they seem surprisingly ambivalent towards foods low in calcium.

As Craig Montell, senior author from UCSB’s Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Neuroscience department, said, it had been approved that fruit flies did not own a mechanism for sensing low calcium even though it was good for them, but they were making efforts to guard against consuming too much calcium.

The scientists discovered that it was necessary to have three taste neurons known as gustatory receptor neurons (GRNs) to sense calcium, so they went on to remove one of these from some of the flies. When exposed to a petri dish containing sugar on one side and a sugar-calcium mix, the mutant flies failed to distinguish between the two to the point that they consumed too much calcium, developed health problems and, ultimately, died. While flies without the neuron removal were purposefully able to avoid the high-calcium side of the dish.

As Montell explained, it was surprised that they discovered  calcium avoidance, which happened through two mechanisms: activation of a unique class of GRNs, distinct from those that sense bitter compounds and which cause a stop-feeding signal when activated. In addition, calcium inhibits sugar-activated GRNs.

In humans, high calcium is linked with many diseases and could pose threats to life. It is suggested that calcium taste might function primarily as a deterrent in wide range of animals, including humans.

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