NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A small group of scientists in white lab coats — some bearing the Pepsi logo — wander through their laboratory, describing the state-of-the-art equipment.

There's the spectrometer, which uses light to determine the nutrients in a food sample. There's also the RT-PCR machine (or, reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction), as seen on "CSI." It can identify a sample of food by reading its DNA.

It's all part of the research laboratory that PepsiCo opened in New Haven's Science Park building earlier this year. The eight full-time scientists who work there focus on finding ways to make snack foods more healthful.

Mention that PepsiCo has a laboratory devoted to greater nutrition and most people wait for the punchline. This is, after all, the company that feeds the world with Cheetos, Fritos and, of course, Pepsi.

But PepsiCo officials say the lab is part of a pattern toward offering more healthful fare. In expanding its product line, Pepsi has bought part of Sabra, a company that makes hummus; its Frito-Lay division now offers sunflower seeds and several types of nuts. And the company recently bought Wimm-Bill-Dann, a Russian dairy company.

Placing a greater emphasis on science, Pepsi hired Mehmood Khan in 2007 as its chief scientific officer. Khan, who had worked as an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, has set such goals as reducing sodium and added sugar by 25 percent in key products and reducing saturated fat by 15 percent.

Before the new lab opened, Khan says, Pepsi scientists had found a way to reduce salt on chips by reducing the size of salt crystals. They dissolve on the tongue faster, so more salt is tasted even though there is less of it. The New Haven lab doesn't have specific breakthroughs to boast of yet, or at least not any they can talk about publicly.

"There's stuff in the pipeline that should be coming out soon, maybe next year," says Mark Pirner, head of the lab and director of the company's clinical and scientific development strategy.

At this point, the researchers say, they're focused on gathering information on nutrition in general. So there are no specific goals yet, such as developing a crunchier, leaner chip.

"The discovery is what's going to lead to innovation," Pirner says. "I think some of the best science has been accidental discovery. I'm hoping it allows us to learn things beyond what we can predict all by ourselves."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.