The Loh Down On Science

The verdict on real versus artificial sugar, from an unusual source

Could panda bears get any sweeter?  Yes!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Giant pandas mainly eat bamboo.  Although it may look like sugar cane, it isn't high in sugar.  So scientists have wondered if the world's cuddliest-looking animals have lost their ability to taste sweet things.

Meet Danielle Reed from Monell Chemical Senses Center.  She says pandas actually do have functioning sweet receptors . . . and a sweet tooth!

Her team spent six months studying eight pandas, ages three to twenty-two, at an animal research center in China. 

During the various experiments, the pandas were given two bowls of liquid to choose from.  One bowl contained just water, while the other contained a mixture of water and one of six natural sugars:  fructose, sucrose, glucose, lactose, maltose, or galactose.   

And?  Paws down, the bears preferred sugar water over plain water.  They were especially keen on fructose and sucrose.  But when given a choice between water and a solution of artificial sweetener, they had no preference for the faux sugars. 

Apparently the panda’s taste for sweets isn’t all black and white.  You know, figuratively.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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