Bridget Coughlin, PhD

  • POSITIONVice President of Strategic Partnerships & Programs and Curator of Human Health
  • EXPERTISE Biochemistry
  • PhD

    University of Iowa Howard Hughes Medical Institute

  • PHONE NUMBER303.370.6310
  • EMAIL[email protected]


Along with citizen scientists, Dr. Bridget Coughlin collects data from Museum visitors to look at how an individual's genetic code (DNA) influences the number and quality of taste bud receptors and their ability to taste certain compounds. This is important because a person's ability to taste food influences what and how much they eat.


  • 1

    Coughlin, B.C. 2001. Searching for an alien haven in the heavens. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. 98: 796.

  • 2

    Grandgenett, P.M., Coughlin B.C., Kirchhoff, L.V., Donelson, J.E. 2000. Differential expression of GP63 genes in Trypanosoma cruzi. Mol Biochem Parasitol. 110 (2): 409-15.

  • 3

    Goodman, C.S., Coughlin, B.C. 2000. The evolution of evo-devo biology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. 97: 4424.

  • 4

    Coughlin, B.C., Teixeira, S.M., Kirchhoff, L.V., Donelson, J.E. 2000. Amastin mRNA abundance in Trypanosoma cruzi is controlled by a 3'-untranslated region position-dependent cis-element and an untranslated region-binding protein. J Biol Chem. 21; 275 (16): 12051-60.

  • 5

    Hill, K.L. and Coughlin, B.C. 1999. Gene rearrangement in eukaryotic organisms. The Encyclopedia of Genetics Academic Press, New York, NY.


Genetics of Taste: A Flavor for Health

The genes responsible for our ability to perceive taste have been finely tuned by evolution to ensure the survival of the human race. Our body can recognize the nutrients and chemicals we put in it so that we're able to properly nourish ourselves, as well as avoid foods and substances that might be harmful.

Genetics of Taste: A Flavor for Health is a community-based, participatory research study in Lab Central in Expedition Health. Its main focus is on a gene cleverly named tas2r38, pronounced "taster 38." This is the gene that determines if you can taste the bitter compound phenylthiocarbamide(PTC) and its chemical relatives propylthiouracil (PROP) and vinylthiooxazolidon, found in vegetables like broccoli and spinach.

"We hypothesize that where your ancestors came from more than 1,000 years ago may have influenced how your tas2r38 gene evolved," said Dr. Nicole Garneau. "If your ancestors came from a part of the world that had toxic, bitter-tasting plants, you would have the ability to taste the bitterness, and that ability to distinguish between edible and poisonous plants would have meant survival."

The study is also questioning how tas2r38, as well as the amount of taste buds a person has, plays a role in the lives of modern humans. The health sciences team is particularly interested in how the ability to taste may or may not influence how much we eat. In the study, participants' tongues are temporarily stained with a bright blue dye, allowing the taste bud density to be easily counted.

"Some people have up to 10 times the number of taste buds others do. One hypothesis is the more you can taste, the quicker your mouth signals your brain to stop eating and might be a factor in your overall body composition," Dr. Garneau said.

Genetics of Taste is a thriving example of community-based research. The research questions about taste and health were selected by the public, and the study is now carried out by dedicated volunteer citizen-scientists. Museum visitors are the research participants, which will allow for an unprecedented sample size of subjects, providing information from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Over the next few years, data will be collected, analyzed, and submitted for publication in a scientific journal.

Get Involved

Genetics of Taste is open to Museum visitors and included with general admission. There is no fee to participate in the project, and your information is kept confidential. Lab Central is located in Expedition Health and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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Hey, CSI fans. Discover how bones can tell you a story. Delicately lift hidden fingerprints left behind by careless felons.

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