Can genes affect your taste?

We all have people who we know: friends, family, acquaintances, and work colleagues who all have distinctly different tastes when it comes to food. Some like it hot, while others…not so much.

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It comes as no surprise that terms such as having an “acquired taste” have become a staple of our food language because it’s exactly that. What works for some people, simply doesn't work for others.

 

Taste can be developed over time. You may, as a child, hate anything with chili in it, but as you get older you’ll find that you crave the intensity of a vindaloo. This is due to a human’s ability to adapt, but some of these inherent traits that are linked to taste and eating habits stay true throughout a person’s life.

 

Could it be that your genetics has a say in the matter?

 

Genetics is a burgeoning field, and has grown at a remarkable rate ever since the completion of initiatives such as The Human Genome Project. We now have so much data and know so much more about ourselves than ever before that we are able to discover more about the interesting quirks in everybody that makes humans unique.

 

An article in The Smithsonian cites that this all started, in scientific terms, in 1931, when a chemist named Arthur Fox was working with powdered PTC and when some blew into the air a colleague commented on how it tasted bitter, whereas Fox couldn't taste a thing.

 

This was the starting point for geneticists to investigate this “PTC gene” and they discovered that it was all based on one gene, TAS2R38, that codes for the taste receptor on the tongue. Because it is genetic, taste is thus inherited based on the allele combination, or “to taste, or not to taste”. The ability is highlighted here; the ability to taste PTC shows a dominant pattern of inheritance. A single copy of a tasting allele (T) conveys the ability to taste PTC. Non-tasters have two copies of a non-tasting allele (t). To make matters even more complicated, there are also at least five rare forms of alleles linked to taste and bitterness.

 

As the field emerges, it also becomes apparent that it isn’t so straightforward, because “humans have about 30 genes that code for bitter taste receptors. Each receptor can interact with several compounds, allowing people to taste a wide variety of bitter substances.”

 

 A study at Kings College London went further by carrying out research while comparing the taste preferences of identical twins to non-identical twins. The findings, and other similar research, “points to genetics playing a "moderate" part in the development of preferred foods. It is possible that genes involved with taste, or the "reward" chemicals released by the body in response to certain foods, might play a role.” So, it isn’t only environmental, but is genetic as well, which gives a new voice to the emerging field of epigenetics.

 

What we do know, and hopefully this operates as a standpoint that opens the floodgates to knowing so much more, is that genes do in fact play a role when it comes to taste preferences. When mixed with environmental factors, and “educating our palates”, we eventually come to know what we like and don't like, and what works, and what doesn't, at an individual level, which is in keeping with the movement towards personalisation in this day and age.

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