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John Hayes, Ph.D.
John Hayes, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Food Science
Director of Sensory Evaluation Center
Penn State University, College of Agricultural Sciences

"Biologically driven market segmentation: Linking genetics to food choice."

Monday, Oct 27th
3:30pm – 4:30pm
Pike Auditorium
BBH Building (Room 22)

Talk Abstract

Chemosensation varies across individuals due to polymorphisms in receptor genes, and this variation is sufficient to influence food choices in humans, at least for some foods. The canonical example, TAS2R38, is only one of several genes (e.g. AS2R4, TAS2R9, TAS2R19 and TAS2R31) implicated in perceptual differences for various stimuli, with potential downstream effects on food liking and intake.

Meanwhile, the applied food literature first described algorithms to segment populations and tailor food products to different underlying niches over 30 years ago. However, these algorithms are product specific, and it is unclear whether these segments are robust and stable across time or culture. Using a behavioral nutrigenetic framework to study food choice, we can move beyond such atheoretical, empirical approaches to understand the biological basis of various segments. Critically, foundational knowledge on the biological causes of sensory differences can be readily applied across product categories.

Accordingly, our laboratory has phenotyped over 500 individuals since 2011 to build multiple genotype-phenotype datasets to explore relationships between orosensory phenotypes, liking, intake and chemosensory polymorphisms. This talk will discuss genotype-phenotype associations for related to vegetable and alcohol intake, as well as the sensations from non-nutritive sweeteners and salt replacers.

New evidence that some previously published reports may be spurious associations due to linkage disequilibrium will also be presented.


Dr. John Hayes studies human flavor perception and how this can influence the food choices people make. John earned a BS and MS in Food Science from Cornell University, and a PhD in Nutrition from the University of Connecticut before completing an NIH T32 postdoctoral fellowship in behavioral genetics and alcohol addiction at Brown University. He is an Assistant Professor of Food Science at the Pennsylvania State University where he teaches sensory science, and is director of the Sensory Evaluation Center.

John runs a federally funded research program. He is best known for his work exploring the chemical senses, food choice, and connections between the two, while more recently, his laboratory has also begun to apply sensory science methods to the optimization of drug delivery systems. John has authored over 55 peer reviewed articles and book chapters which have been cited over 750 times. His work has also appeared on NPR,, FoxNews, MSNBC and national and international newspapers and magazines like the Wall Street Journal, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian (UK), The Daily Telegraph (UK), Popular Science, and Vogue.

John has won multiple international awards for his research, including the Pangborn Sensory Science Scholarship, and the Ajinomoto Award from the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS), which is given to an outstanding junior scientist who is an emerging leader in the field of gustation.

He regularly reviews articles for Physiology and Behavior, Chemical Senses, Appetite, Food Quality & Preference, and the Journal of Food Science, and serves on the editorial boards of Chemosensory Perception and the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

Research Interests

Dr. Hayes' research group studies food choice in a biobehavioral framework, by integrated traditional sensory science methods with behavioral genetics to understand biological factors that may cause individuals to like and consume some foods but not others. Dr. Hayes is also interested in using sensory science methods to increase the user acceptability of various drug delivery systems.Recent projects in his laboratory have focused on:

  • The psychophysics of taste and flavor perception
  • Quantifying the role of genetic variation on food sensations and reward
  • Understanding how genetic variation may or may not influence patterns of food intake
  • The role of personality in liking spicy food Individual differences in the perception and liking of non-nutritive sweeteners, and the genetic basis of this variation
  • Factors which influence alcohol intake
  • Development of new psychophysical methods to predict consumer acceptability
  • Oral irritation from pharmaceutical agents
  • User acceptability of semisolid drug delivery systems for HIV prevention