• December 8, 2011
  • Penn Medicine Researchers Report New Findings on Taste Perception

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.


Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania -- recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2013, Penn Medicine provided $814 million to benefit our community.


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