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Luke Phillips
Luke Phillips

May BJ 1 (2) Avi

Genetically mediated sensitivity to bitter taste has been associated with food preferences and eating behavior in adults and children. The aim of this study was to assess the association between TAS2R38 bitter taste genotype and the first complementary food acceptance in infants.

May BJ 1 (2) avi

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Three polymorphisms in the TAS2R38 gene result in three amino acid substitutions defining two major haplotypes, PAV and AVI. Subjects carrying at least one copy of the dominant PAV are mainly medium taster or super taster, while AVI homozygote individuals are non-tasters [11, 12, 14]. However, evidences also suggested that polymorphisms in the TAS2R38 gene partly explain variance in PTC/PROP perception and a role by other genetic and non-genetic factors has been suggested [15, 16].

Studies conducted in both adults and children reported a relationship between PTC/PROP taste perception, mediated by the TAS2R38 gene, and eating behavior [17,18,19,20,21,22]. Basically, non-taster individuals result less sensitive to a wider range of taste stimuli and show a greater acceptance of different foods, such as cruciferous raw vegetables, spicy foods, or alcoholic beverages [23,24,25,26]. Moreover, TAS2R38 genotype has been associated with preference and intake for sucrose and sweet foods. Specifically, sweet food preference and intake resulted higher in children homozygous for the bitter-sensitive allele or heterozygous compared to children homozygous for the bitter-insensitive allele [10, 27]. Interestingly, a recent study showed that variants in TAS2R38 gene are associated to pick eating behavior with children carrying at least one copy of the bitter-sensitive allele having limited dietary variety compared to the homozygous for bitter insensitive allele [28].

Despite the already existing research studies on genetic differences in taste perception and food behavior, no data is available on the possible role of TAS2R38 genotype on the acceptance of first complementary food in infants. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine if TAS2R38 genotype affects complementary feeding behavior in infants, hypothesizing that less time is needed to accept the first complementary foods in bitter-insensitive infants if compared to bitter-sensitive ones.

This study indicates that infants insensitive to bitter taste (defined by the TAS2R38 genotype AVI/AVI) were more likely to consume the whole first complementary food meal at first attempt, compared to sensitive ones (either AVI/PAV or PAV/PAV genotypes). Moreover, bitter-insensitive infants consumed the whole volume of the first complementary food in fewer days than bitter-sensitive ones.

Bitter-sensitive and bitter-insensitive infants were similar with respect to baseline features and to the timing of first complementary food introduction. Infants were all breastfed, at least partially. Exclusive formula-fed infants were excluded because, in comparison to them, breastfed infants are more willing to try and accept new foods [34] as they experience flavors derived from the maternal diet in breast milk [35].

As the attitude adopted by the person who feeds the infant may influence food consumption [35], the study protocol included an IFQ designed for mothers (maternal feeding practices and maternal beliefs). In our study population, all infants were fed by their own mothers and the IFQ items were not significantly associated with first food consumption.

Moreover, no differences emerged in specific foods as part of the complementary food mix between bitter-sensitive and bitter-insensitive infants. Interestingly, the presence of meat in complementary food independently increased the odds of consuming the whole meal at the first attempt, whereas adding salt decreased such odds.

For all the abovementioned reasons, additional studies on larger populations are required to confirm our findings and to evaluate the impact of different volumes of complementary food or of different types of food.

The study results agree with our initial hypothesis and are also in line with already reported differences in food behavior between bitter-sensitive and bitter-insensitive adults and children [28, 46, 47].

This work, through a better understanding of the genetics of taste on eating behavior, represents a potential starting point for further investigation and aims at developing positive eating habits at weaning.

GC, PG, SD, and GP contributed to the conception and design of the study. GP, AR, GC, MM, PP, and MG contributed to the generation, collection, assembly, analysis, and/or interpretation of data. GP, AR, PG, SD, and GC contributed to the drafting or revision of the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( ), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( ) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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You may have noticed that foods such as broccoli, cabbage, grapefruit, and Brussels sprouts have a bitter edge to them. This is because all of these foods contain a class of related molecules known as thiourea compounds.

Source:Keller, K. L., & Adise, S. (2016). Variation in the ability to taste bitter thiourea compounds: implications for food acceptance, dietary intake, and obesity risk in children. Annual review of nutrition, 36.

When we eat these foods, the thiourea compounds activate specialised bitter taste receptors (TAS2Rs) on the surface of our tongue, giving rise to a bitter sensation. There are thought to be at least 25 different types of bitter taste receptors, with TAS2R38 (taste receptor 2 member 38) being particularly sensitive to thiourea compounds.

A chemist by the name of Arthur Fox was trying to develop an artificial sweetener in his lab, when he accidentally blew crystals of PTC (phenylthiocarbamide), a thiourea compound, into the air. Some of these PTC crystals inadvertently landed on Fox's and his lab partner's mouths.

While his lab partner complained about the crystals' bitter taste, Fox could taste nothing at all. Intrigued by this, Fox got his family, friends, and colleagues to also taste PTC crystals impregnated on bits of paper. He found that it tasted extremely bitter to some individuals, but was completely tasteless to others.

Subsequent studies using PROP (6-n-propylthiouracil), a less toxic alternative to PTC, have told a slightly more nuanced story. Rather than being a discrete binary division between non-tasters and tasters, it seems that people vary continuously in their sensitivity to PROP and other thiourea compounds.

After teaming up with the geneticist, Arthur Blakeslee, Fox tested and tracked families to see whether bitter taste sensitivity was inherited. They found that being unable to taste PTC was inherited in families in a Mendelian recessive pattern, meaning a non-taster would have to inherit the non-tasting trait from both parents.

When we talk about DNA being the code for life, what we specifically mean is that the exact sequence of our DNA code determines what amino acids we make, which in turn determines the make-up, structure, function, and quantities of proteins that we produce.

Looking more closely, our entire genome or DNA sequence is simply a very long string of four different nucleotide bases, denoted by the letters: A, C, G, and T. Units of three bases/ letters, called codons, correspond to specific amino acids. For example, the codon G, T, A in the DNA sequence of the TAS2R38 gene codes for the amino acid valine (V).

If you were to inherit the TAS2R38 gene variant encoding alanine (A) at position 49 (rs714598), you are also highly likely to inherit the variants encoding valine (V) at position 262 (rs17126866) and isoleucine (I) at position 296.

Source: Risso, D. S., Mezzavilla, M., Pagani, L., Robino, A., Morini, G., Tofanelli, S., ... & Drayna, D. (2016). Global diversity in the TAS2R38 bitter taste receptor: revisiting a classic evolutionary PROPosal. Scientific reports, 6(1), 1-9. 041b061a72


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