As Search Narrows, Success Nears
SAN FRANCISCO, March 28 — Having a hard time controlling that sweet tooth of yours? Scientists are getting closer to proof that you can blame it on your parents.
In studies with mice, researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pa., have narrowed the search for the gene responsible for our preference for sweets to a tiny area of a specific chromosome. Their findings were presented here today at the 219th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. The weeklong meeting is expected to attract about 20,000 scientists from around the world.
This area, located on mouse chromosome 4, “is a likely candidate for a sweet taste gene,” says Gary Beauchamp (Bee-chum), Ph.D., director of the Monell Center. “It plays a prominent role in sweet perception in mice and, most likely, in humans.”
The Monell studies indicate the elusive gene “affects not only liking for sweetness but also affects the physiological response of the taste nerve to sweetness,” claims Beauchamp. “We believe the gene somehow controls variations in sweet perception.” In other words, the gene could determine whether you prefer bittersweet or milk chocolate, for example.
In theory, finding the sweet gene and understanding how it functions could lead to tailor-made sweets. Perhaps equally important, Beauchamp points out, is the possibility of using this knowledge to enhance understanding of how taste receptors interact with other structures, such as glucose, the body’s main energy source.
Beauchamp’s group has narrowed the search to a stretch of DNA that includes approximately 100 genes of chromosome 4’s 10,000 genes. He believes researchers, at Monell and elsewhere, could bring the search for a sweet gene to a successful conclusion by year’s end.
Monell is a non-profit institute that specializes in basic research on the chemical mechanisms and functions of taste and smell. The research report is part of a three-day symposium on the chemistry of taste at the American Chemical Society’s meeting.
Dr. Beauchamp is Director and President, Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pa.
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