Taste perception

Sunday, 14 November, 2004

Drs Christopher Parry, Alfrun Erkner and Johannes le Coutre, scientists at the Nestle Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, have reported about novel genetic fundamentals of taste perception.

The authors analysed all 33 members of the bitter taste receptor gene family in bonobo monkeys and compared their sequences with those of humans and chimpanzees. Bonobos are humans' closest relatives on an evolutionary scale. The paper explains that despite a high degree of similarity for these genes the three species have remarkable differences, which imply clear functional specialisation regarding taste perception.

The authors describe particular differences between the three species for the expressed receptor proteins suggesting an evolutionary mechanism to fine-tune taste receptor responses. The study details primate bitter taste receptor divergence and shows mechanisms of species specific gustatory adaptation with significance for nutrition and food choice.

Dr le Coutre, head of the study, explains the findings might indicate an individualised, genetic basis for taste perception. Being part of a dynamic and variable set of taste receptors the genes might even have implications beyond bitter taste. He points out that these systems might influence our response to food by means of a metabolic evaluation and physiological adjustment of our body. With a set of molecular 'locks' at hand it remains now a challenge for the future to identify the 'keys', which trigger a healthy response for every individual.

The article is available on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS) internet site: www.pnas.org

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