Welcome to Buzzed io9, an occasional column highlighting experiments of dubious scientific merit that readers can conduct when totally wasted. Today's question: can humans taste water? Flies can. Are you going to let a Drosophila show you up?
It's unclear whether humans can actually taste water. Yes, we can taste the minerals and various impurities in our tap water. We can feel the water sloshing around in our mouths. But can we actually taste H20 in all of its wet deliciousness? If we can't, then it's another win for our six-legged nemeses, the dreaded insects. Sure, insects may have a greater biomass than humans and possess all sorts of marvelously stabby appendages, but we Homo sapiens have the scientific method. And hooch!
According to cell biologist Peter Cameron of UC Berkeley, "Insects have a unique set of neurons, including water sensing ones, but the actual water taste receptor was [until recently] unknown." In a recent study Cameron published in Nature - "The molecular basis for water taste in Drosophila" - Cameron and his team isolated a protein, PPK28, that allows flies to taste water. PPK28 may not be the only mechanism that allows flies to taste water, but Cameron notes that "evidence strongly suggests that PPK28 alone serves as the water sensor; it doesn't seem to sense anything else."
Okay, so those stupid flies can taste water. But can humans? Hopefully Cameron's work will jumpstart awesomely trivial research concerning the human capacity to taste water. In the meantime, what are you going to do for science? You're going to have a WATER TASTING PARTY.
Step 1.) Invite a dozen of your closest friends over.
Step 2.) Rent Waterworld. Or Ice Pirates. Or some other film in which hydro is a precious commodity.
Step 3.) Get your pals three sheet to the wind. We'll let you decide how.
Step 4.) Serve half of your friends distilled water and half of your friends tap. Convince your friends that you distilled their water the same way Kevin Costner did in Waterworld. This will make them ornery and excited for science.
Step 5.) Allow your glassy-eyed colleagues to argue amongst themselves whether or not humans can taste water. Some folks may argue that "the taste" of water is due to impurities or the absence thereof. Some folks will claim that they can taste water because of some superior gustatorial upbringing. Some folks will begin crying about their spouses or lack thereof. Stanch that quick by blasting TLC's "Waterfalls" whenever the conversation deviates. They must learn Pavlovianly.
Step 6.) Time to up the ante. Tell your friends whoever states his or her case the loudest wins the scientific method.
Step 7.) Explain to the police office that you are conducting a science experiment. He will probably write you a ticket. Hey, it could be worse. Galileo was placed under house arrest.