Did bitter tasters do better?

Genetic clues suggest distinguishing bitter natural toxins was advantageous in human evolution

Ishani Ganguli(iganguli@the-scientist.com)
Jul 25, 2005

An improved ability to distinguish the bitter taste of natural toxins in foods may have made a difference in the survival of early humans as they radiated out of Africa, according to a genetic analysis by researchers led by a group at University College London, appearing in the July 26 issue of Current Biology. The new study suggests that a particular allele for the G protein-coupled taste receptor TAS2R16-which mediates the response to bitter cyanogenic glycosides found in many food plants-has been favored by human evolution.

"There is a general understanding that higher primates and humans in particular are losing some of their sensory capabilities because we have replaced sensory perception with other means of protecting ourselves-cooking food, for instance, or even changing diet," said coauthor Nicole Soranzo.

However, these results suggest that there is more to the evolutionary story, said John Glendinning, of Barnard College in New...

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