116 Food Research - Geneva
Terry Acree`s laboratory is interested in how stimulant composition is represented in perception. A seemingly infinite number of perceptions are invoked by less than 1000 odorants found in the human sensory environment. Mediated by sensory neurons expressing a given receptor these odorants generate neural excitation in the brain that is a topographic map of sensory information. Recent literature suggest that olfactory receptor expression is highly variant in the human population and that this may explain the functional variation in taste and olfaction that has been observed for decades. Understanding the relationship between stimulant composition and perception is therefore central to understanding the representation of chemical information in the brain and the impact of genetic diversity on the perception of food.
An internal representation of the external world is created in the brain of all eukaryotes by a mechanism that detects chemicals in the environment and transmit this information to the brain, where it is processed to create, at least in humans, perceptions. This sensory representation of the external chemical world in the brain is a translation of stimulus features into a neural sensory map. It is the nature of this sensory map: how it is established by stimulant patterns, how it varies in a population, and ultimately how it modulates other brain functions, e.g. emotions (joy) or behavior (buying wine), that is the goal of our research. Over the years Terry and his students have developed a selective and sensitive bio-assay for smell based on gas chromatography - olfactometry (GCO) called CharmAnalysis that, along with other forms of chromatography, spectrometry, and sensory analysis, are used to study food quality.
In the classe I teach at Cornell I relate food composition to flavor perception through discussions of neurobiology, chemistry and perceptual psychology.