Face-to-Face: Meet Gary Beauchamp
Ever wonder if anyone else is facing the same professional challenges as you? Or just looking to connect with some new people in your field? In IFT's Face-to-Face series, we will be introducing you to a different IFT member every month with a fun, insightful Q&A session.
This month meet...
Gary Beauchamp, Director, Monell Chemical Senses Center.
- How did you get your start researching taste and smell?
As a graduate student many years ago I was interested in how animals communicate with each other. At the time I was studying rodents and for these creatures, odors were obviously the primary means of communication. So, I became interested in how animals produce and respond to odors that have social and sexual meaning. I began these studies as a post doc when I first came to Monell, a fledging basic research center then located at the University of Pennsylvania. At Monell, my interests, stimulated by a number of colleagues, soon moved into taste, food, and flavor.
- What do you love about your job?
The opportunity to think about and write about science is by far the best part of my job. The administrative activities (particularly fund raising) are a poor second.
- What is the biggest challenge that you face in your job?
Our goal at Monell is to provide the best possible place to do premier basic and clinical research in the senses of taste, smell, and chemesthesis (chemical irritation—e.g., the burn of hot peppers or the cooling of menthol). Unfortunately, this means assuring funding, which is extremely challenging given current budgetary constraints in Washington and in the private sector.
- What have you learned or been exposed to in the past 12 months that has helped you in your job?
Almost one year ago, the final report of the Institute of Medicine Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States was released. I served on this committee and subsequently have spoken about salt taste and the challenges in reducing salt intake to many and varied groups. I have been struck by the uniformity of the commitment to find ways to moderate intake by the medical community, the food industry, and consumers alike. The central problem is the extreme technical and behavioral difficulties in accomplishing meaningful reduction due to the varied and profound roles salt plays in our diet. Helping to solve this problem through fundamental research is a goal of many of my colleagues at Monell and elsewhere.
- Have you encountered any new research on taste perception that might impact the food industry in the coming years?
During the past decade we finally have identified many of the molecular receptors that detect flavor compounds, although there is still much that remains to be discovered. One of the most remarkable recent findings is that the so-called taste receptors that detect sweet, bitter, and umami compounds in the mouth are also expressed in many other parts of the body, including the gut, the pancreas, the nose, the lungs, and even the brain. What are the functions of these receptors? Do they play a role in regulating nutrient ingestion and utilization? Can they be exploited to help control diabetes, obesity or hypertension? Exciting research results are surely on the way.
- Fun Fact: What’s your favorite food?
Edamame—the perfect food.
If you are an IFT member and wish to be profiled, please contact Kelly Frederick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-604-0211.