PHILADELPHIA - A group of Penn researchers has documented the evolutionary history of one of the genes behind the human body’s ability to taste bitter foods. Led by Sarah Tishkoff, PhD, David and Lyn Silfen University Associate Professor, Perelman School of Medicine, and Michael C. Campbell, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in genetics, Perelman School of Medicine, the team recorded the origins of the gene, TAS2R38, and found that the gene’s development over time was not determined solely by taste. The findings were published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. Those having a specific version of the TAS2R38 gene can taste phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC, which has a similar chemical makeup to natural bitter compounds, known as glucosinolates, found in foods such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Those having this gene can taste bitterness in these foods that others are unable to detect. Although past studies have researched different types of the PTC-sensitivity gene, this is the first study using an extensive sample of diverse African populations of varying cultures, ethnicities and diets. Study participants from Africa have the highest levels of genetic diversity globally. Alessia Ranciaro, PhD, and Jibril B. Hirbo, postdoctoral fellows at the Perelman School of Medicine, join other team members in this project funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and a David and Lucile Packard Career Award.
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