Computational approaches to chemical senses
Food perception relies on olfactory and taste systems, the so-called chemical senses. Olfactory receptors detect and discriminate thousands of gas phase molecules associated with different odor. Taste receptors detect, primarily, water-soluble molecules called tastants, before they are ingested.
Almost all chemical senses receptors, located in the neuronal membrane, belong to the G-protein coupled receptors superfamily. Tastants and odor molecules bind to their target receptors and activate downstream events whose final result is the production of ion currents carried out by ion channels.
Characterizing such binding events at the molecular level is crucial for food industry. For instance, such characterization may lead to design antagonists that could effectively mask or reduce bitter taste sensing in otherwise very tasty food or beverages. It may also provide a molecular basis based on which different receptor haplotypes determine perceptual differences across humans. These play an important role in dietary choices and human behavior, affecting significantly human health.
Unfortunately, neither traditional in-vivo flavor researches cannot provide information on sensory perception at molecular level nor structural information on chemical senses receptor is available at present. Computations, especially if combined with molecular biology and genetic studies, have been and are then the method of choice for structure/function relationship studies. Despite the relevance of this field, to the best of our knowledge, there have been very few events dedicated to the computational molecular biology of food sensing. This contrasts with the larger amount of mainly experimentally oriented meetings that are periodically organized.
This CECAM workshop is aimed to fill this gap. It will foster molecular simulation, bioinformatics and systems biology approaches to the modeling of food sensing, based on experiments. It will bring top-level researchers in the field of GPCRs and ion channels modeling and simulation along with experimentalists from food companies and research institutions.
• Bring top-level scientists from research institutions in contact with scientists from food companies. This will help to better identify the research needs of the industrial counterparts and, consequently, strength existing collaborations and delineate new joint projects between academic institutions and industrial partners.
• Identify challenges, priorities and opportunity areas in natural and artificial sensory science. This is expected to trigger appropriate intellectual and financial investments, and lead to the establishment of novel research directions capable of maximizing the impact of the field in the near future.
• Discuss prospects and limitations of both computational methodologies and experimental techniques currently employed in sensory science and food perception. This would allow defining more successful strategies to address up-coming challenges in the area of chemical senses.
• Start building a mixed industrial/academic community that could meet in a regular basis, through the organization of a series of workshops, to show and discuss new findings and novel approaches in the field, including basic research advances that may drive to the development of artificial chemosensors in which industrial partners are very much interested.
• Bring top molecular simulation scientists in the field of GPCRs modeling into contact of experimentalists in chemical senses. This may foster new collaborations in the field.
Paolo Carloni (Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University) - Organiser & speaker
Giulia Rossetti (Forschungszentrum Jülich) - Organiser & speaker
Alejandro Giorgetti (University of Verona) - Organiser & speaker
Luciano Navarini (Illycaffè s.p.a) - Organiser & speaker
Pablo Campomanes (University of Fribourg) - Organiser