By Reem Ikram
Birthday cake, apple pie, chocolate milkshake and spicy buffalo wings. What do they all have in common? Well, they all are examples of flavors that have been synthesized and added to most of our favorite foods. That’s how we have snacks like very berry flavored chewing gum and ranch flavored Doritos. So, how did we manage to do that? Two words, Lloyd Beidler. Widely regarded as “The father of taste physiology,” Dr. Lloyd M. Beidler dedicated a majority of his life to researching and understanding the science of taste buds. His work paved the way for various scientists, the innovations for synthesized flavors, and as well as captivated many into recognizing the functions of our very own taste receptors.
Beidler’s love and energy for science and understanding how things work has been a part of his identity since he was a boy. The Orlando Sentinel shares how as a child he spent most of his time building gadgets from junkyard scraps and building his own lab tables and equipment. He has always been eager and dedicated to learn.
The reason taste became his muse was because it was something humans used frequently. We as a species rely on a few physiological functions such as maintaining energy and passing on our genetic code in order to survive. Beidler felt like it was important to hone in on one of those subjects. When speaking to school children, he would share how eating and sex were the most important things in life. Both functions intrigued him since they both involved taste and smell. His passion for understanding life led him to then invest in comprehending the function of consumption and its biomechanics. And that is how taste became his first love. (Ost)
If you were ever to scout Beidler, you would find him in his office, delving further into his studies behind a large photograph of a tongue with enlarged taste buds dripping with melted ice cream. As a professor at the University of Florida, he managed to win the hearts of many, teaching and encouraging students. “Beidler nonetheless inspires warm feelings from many who know him. They cite his endless energy and ideas, soft heart and encouragement of students’ independent research.” (Ost) His energy for sharing knowledge earned him a notable reputation as a professor and a scientist. Both of which followed him all around the world, as he gave multiple lectures and consultations with many. (Sims)
Though Beidler was a spectacular professor, he actually gained worldly recognition by discovering the renewal of cells within taste buds. According to the National Academy of Sciences, “Beidler focused on measuring taste receptor potentials using an electronic summator, a tool which quantifies electro-physiological activities of sensory nerves used for taste. Beidler was one of the first researchers to provide concrete evidence that taste buds continually die and get replaced.” This find then launched Beidler into sharing his studies. For the Sigma Xi national research society, Beidler managed to attend 20 universities in nine states lecturing his groundwork. He gave talks in Montana, the Dakotas, Missouri, Utah, Colorado, and other states, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, The Daily Provo Herald and Colorado Transcript.
Beidler’s lectures, titled “The Biological Approach to Taste,” gave insight to the response of taste receptors and analyzed the relation between them and chemical stimulation. According to his lecture at the University of Utah on March 29, 1961, chemical sensitivity was one of the earliest developments in animal evolution. All of which aided early humans in food searching, food selection, mating and detection of prey. He identifies various taste bud components and how they consist of chemically sensitive cells that hold finger-like structures which project into the saliva covering the tongue. Beidler also added how human taste impulses are transmitted to the brain by taste nerves and how his analysis now enables scientists to understand taste phenomena in man and the laws that describe them. (Evans)
Following his lecture tour, Dr. Lloyd M. Beidler continued on his research. A fun and notable experiment in which he conducted was in March 1964 as reported by Science News Letter. The experiment focused on the taste sense of children for sweetness tested. In the study, ten children, ages ranging from four to twelve years, were given a series of tests to determine how well they were able to distinguish between degrees of sweetness and saltiness. The children sat at a drugstore counter in front of a shiny box-like machine. The machine then would dispense liquids of three degrees of either saltiness or sweetness. Following the tasting, the children then had to pull one of the three levers to identify what they considered to be the sweetest or saltiest. If a child answered correctly, a nickel dropped out of the machine and the child was rewarded. If answered wrong, the child would get nothing. In both cases, the machine continued pouring out three more glassfulls for them until their 35 minute experiment session ended. Beidler explained how children were used to experiment since they were easily motivated. His experiment worked wonders on the kids until they began to lose interest after building up a stockpile of hard cash (Society for Science & the Public, 1964).
With Beidler’s drive and passion, research wasn’t the only thing he succeeded in. He also managed to make many more accomplishments during his lifetime. Some of his other major successes included; American Physiological Society’s Bowditch Lectureship for 1959; appointment by John F. Kennedy as the Science Coordinator of U.S. Science Exhibits for the Seattle World’s Fair in 1961; co-founded, with Dan Kenshalo, the psychobiology program at FSU in 1965; Honorary Doctor of Law degree from Muhlenberg College in 1969; FSU’s Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professorship in 1971; election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1974; American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1975; Resolution of Commendation from Florida’s House of Representatives and Senate in 1987; recipient of the National Institutes of Health Javits Neuroscience Award; served on the nominating committee for the Nobel Prize Award; Board of Directors of the Museum of Electricity; and a member of the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (Sims, 2003).
To truly understand Dr. Lloyd M. Beidler and his passion completely would take more than reading a college article. To fully capture Beidler and what he made his life about would take a lifetime. As a remarkable educator and an endearing enthusiast for knowledge and life, he managed to impact a lot more than physiology and food science, He innovated the way we understand science, food and how we eat.
Reem Ikram is a senior at the University of Utah majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism. She hopes to find a career in television news, magazine publishing or entertainment media. To watch her as she continues on her journey, you can follow her on instagram @thereeemster.
D. Evans, “Beidler Reveals Taste Sense Perfected Early,” Daily Utah Chronicle, March 30, 1961.
“Lloyd M. Beider,” National Academy of Sciences.
Laura Ost, “HIS RESEARCH ALWAYS ON THE TIP OF TONGUE,” Orlando Sentinel, April 26, 1987.
“Physiologist Leaves For Lecture Tour,” Tallahassee Democrat, March 26, 1961.
“Physiology Prof to Speak Tonight,” Provo Daily Herald, March 30, 1961.
“To Lecture Here,” Colorado Transcript, February 23, 1961.
“Florida Prof to Discuss ‘Taste,'” Daily Utah Chronicle, March 27, 1961.
“‘Why of Taste’ Sets Speech By Sigma Xi,” Daily Utah Chronicle, March 28, 1961.