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Physiol Behav. 2006 Jun 30;88(3):215-26. Epub 2006 Jun 19.

Diverse tastes: Genetics of sweet and bitter perception.

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  • 1Monell Chemical Senses Center, 3500 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. reed.monell.org

Abstract

Humans will eat almost anything, from caribou livers to rutabagas, but there are some types of foods, and their associated taste qualities, that are preferred by large groups of people regardless of culture or experience. When many choices are available, humans chose foods that taste good, that is, create pleasing sensations in the mouth. The concept of good taste for most people encompasses both flavor and texture of food, and these sensations merge with taste proper to form the concept of goodness. Although we acknowledge the universality of the goodness (sweet) or badness (bitter) of basic taste qualities, we also find that people differ, sometimes extremely so, in their ability to perceive and enjoy these qualities and, by extension, food and drink. The reasons for these differences among people are not clear but are probably due to a combination of experience beginning at an early age, perhaps in utero; learning, for example, as with conditioned taste aversions; sex and maturity; and perceptual differences that arise from genetic variation. In this review, we focus on individual variations that arise from genetic differences and review two domains of science: recent developments in the molecular biology of taste transduction, with a focus on the genes involved and second, studies that examine biological relatives to determine the heritability of taste perception. Because the receptors for sweet, savory (umami), and bitter have recently been discovered, we summarize what is known about their function by reviewing the effect of naturally occurring and man-made alleles of these receptors, their shape and function based on receptor modeling techniques, and how they differ across animal species that vary in their ability to taste certain qualities. We discuss this literature in the context of how taste genes may differ among people and give rise to individuated taste experience, and what is currently known about the genetic effects on taste perception in humans.

PMID:
16782140
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC1698869
Free PMC Article
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