In the last decade, basic research in chemoreceptor genetics and neurobiology has revolutionized our understanding of individual differences in chemosensation. From an evolutionary perspective, chemosensory variations appear to have arisen in response to different living environments, generally in the avoidance of toxins and to better detect vital food sources. Today, it is often assumed that these differences may drive variable food preferences and choices, with downstream effects on health and wellness. A growing body of evidence indicates chemosensory variation is far more complex than previously believed. However, just because a genetic polymorphism results in altered receptor function in cultured cells or even behavioral phenotypes in the laboratory, this variation may not be sufficient to influence food choice in free living humans. Still, there is ample evidence to indicate allelic variation in TAS2R38 predicts variation in bitterness of synthetic pharmaceuticals (e.g., propylthiouracil) and natural plant compounds (e.g., goitrin), and this variation associates with differential intake of alcohol and vegetables. Further, this is only one of 25 unique bitter taste genes (. TAS2Rs) in humans, and emerging evidence suggests other TAS2Rs may also contain polymorphisms that are functional with respect to ingestive behavior. For example, TAS2R16 polymorphisms are linked to the bitterness of naturally occurring plant compounds and alcoholic beverage intake, a TAS2R19 polymorphism associates with differences in quinine bitterness and grapefruit bitterness and liking, and TAS2R31 polymorphisms associate with differential bitterness of plant compounds like aristolochic acid and the sulfonyl amide sweeteners saccharin and acesulfame-K. More critically with respect to food choices, these polymorphisms may vary independently from each other within and across individuals, meaning a monolithic one-size-fits-all approach to bitterness needs to be abandoned. Nor are genetic differences restricted to bitterness. Perceptual variation has also been associated with polymorphisms in genes involved in odors associated with meat defects (boar taint), green/grassy notes, and cilantro, as well as umami and sweet tastes (. TAS1R1/2/3). Here, a short primer on receptor genetics is provided, followed by a summary of current knowledge, and implications for human ingestive behavior are discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Science
- Nutrition and Dietetics