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Perception and preference may have genetic link to obesity

ed an overweight population of African-American adults and found those who had a specific change or variation in the CD36 gene perceived the creaminess and fattiness of salad dressings quite well, but they were less able to differentiate the high-fat from the low-fat versions.

Despite this insensitivity, these same individuals reported by questionnaire that they liked added fats such as salad dressings, spreads, butter and margarine more than those who did not have this variation in their CD36 gene. "This is the first time that a gene involved in fat taste has been linked to fat preference in humans," said Tepper.

A Genetic Marker for Fat Texture

This latest finding came out of years of research on PROP-tasting, a different genetic trait that seems to be an index of general food preferences, including liking of fat. PROP (short for propylthiouracil) is a bitter-tasting compound that is strong-tasting to some people and tasteless to others. The ability to taste PROP is controlled by a gene called TAS2R38. People who are taste-blind to PROP are called "non-tasters" and those who perceive PROP to be strongly bitter are called "super-tasters." Those in the middle of the pack, not surprisingly, are called "medium tasters."

"Several things became very clear from our studies and those from other labs," says Tepper. "Non-tasters were insensitive to a wide range of oral sensations such as bitterness, sweetness, chili pepper heat and the texture of fats, and they avidly consumed foods with these characteristics." At the other end of the spectrum were "super-tasters, who disliked strong tasting foods because they were too intense for them."

One area Tepper began focusing on was the perception and preference of fat since this has obvious implications for obesity development, a fact that is highlighted in her recent review in The Scientist magazine. In a series of studies, she asked participants to use their own words to desc

Contact: Paula Quintin
Rutgers University

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