Feeds

Genes offer excuse for beer fear

Evolutionary get-out for Barcadi Breezer drinkers

High performance access to file storage

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.