With the advent of relatively inexpensive genetic mapping, one can envision a time in which infants are mapped at birth. This information, aside from medical implications, could have consequences for food and beverage choices, notes Bob Eilerman, Givaudan's head of innovation programs. "At some point I can envision going into a food store where you can purchase food designed for your genetic makeup," he explains, highlighting the growing field of nutrigenomics—the study of the relationship between gene expression and diet. For example, this could potentially address varying sensitivities to tastants or allergens among consumers. "Certain food [constituents] can turn genes on and off and you want to be able to do that to your best interest."
Eilerman is quick to note that research in this emerging area is underway in “a very modest way so far at Givaudan,” particularly through a research partnership with the US National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov) that focuses on genetics and sweet and umami perception. “Our interest was initially in seeing if we could map the [human] sweet receptor by understanding demographic differences in sweet taste,” he says of one recent study.a “We took a group of about 250 people and compared their sensitivity to sucrose and other sweeteners with their sweet taste genetics. What we found was genetic differences (polymorphisms) in the sweet taste receptor that could be extended to the world population. Interestingly, perceived intensity is tied to control of the quantity of sweet receptors on the tongue. So not all groups are equally sensitive to sweetness, and this could clearly infl uence food choices.”
Eilerman adds, “We’re doing similar work with umami. We have an interest in mapping these characteristics. There are a lot of different groups working on different pieces. Eventually we’re going to have a nice data fi le on various traits from a taste or smell point of view.”