Feeds

Genes offer excuse for beer fear

Evolutionary get-out for Barcadi Breezer drinkers

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

AAAS Geneticists are shedding light on why some people can't handle their beer, or rather may eschew a noble chalice of foaming chestnut ale in favour of a less challenging sweeter beverage.

The genetic basis of sensitivity to bitter compounds has a special significance in evolution - scientists hypothesise that the ability to distinguish bitter tastes, which are often associated with poisonous molecules, was crucial to our early ancestors.

Scientists are approaching the question by investigating a gene called PTC, which confers either sensitivity or insensitivity on taste buds to phentlythiocarbamide.

Tiny amounts of this synthetic compound are extremely bitter to people with one form of the gene, while those with the other experience little or no effect. This presents an evolutionary mystery: why hasn't natural selection eliminated genes for insensitivity to bitter tastes - which could render people unaware they were poisoning themselves - from the population?

University of Texas professor Stephen Wooding found genetic signatures in the PTC gene which point to an evolutionary phenomenon called balancing selection. Balancing selection does exactly what you would expect; the push to delete the non-tasting form of the gene is balanced by the pull to keep it.

Presenting the work at the AAAS meeting in San Francisco, Wooding said: "In the absence of this type of natural selection, you would expect one form to dominate. That hasn't happened here because for some reason, there is not a strong advantage of one over the other. It's an unusual situation."

The source of the pull that kept the non-taster form of the PTC presenting early human populations is, for now, a matter of conjecture. Wooding said: "One explanation could be that, long ago, it conferred some sort of protection from a different compound in these people." Similarly, there is evidence that insensitivity to the bitterness of the quinine family of compounds, which are used against malaria, is more common in people from regions where mosquitos carry the amoeba which causes the illness.

Nurture as well as nature plays a role in people's penchant for beverages which can be disgustingly bitter to friends though. Wooding said: "I think it would be an interesting question for psychologists."

Indeed, it could be said that the Teutonic cultural sweet tooth was indirectly responsible for the destruction of the Austrian wine industry in the 1980s when it was found vineyards were adding antifreeze to their wines to up the sweetness. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
HUGE SHARK as big as a WWII SUBMARINE died out, allowing whales to exist
Who'd win a fight: Megalodon or a German battleship?
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
OK Google, do I have CANCER?
Company talks up pill that would spot developing tumors
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The hidden costs of self-signed SSL certificates
Exploring the true TCO for self-signed SSL certificates, including a side-by-side comparison of a self-signed architecture versus working with a third-party SSL vendor.