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Separate genetic mutations gave people, chimps bitter-taste sensitivity

l. After that, he conducted experiments and found that about 70 percent of people were PTC tasters.

Following a study of chimpanzees more than 65 years ago, scientists thought the gene responsible for the ability to taste PTC evolved long before humans and chimps diverged into separate species. But after examining patterns of variation at a molecular level, Wooding and Bamshad, along with collaborators at the German Institute for Human Nutrition, Arizona State University, and the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, concluded that the "insensitive" form of the gene evolved separately in humans and chimps through completely different mutations.

People carry two functional forms of the PTC gene, one of which evolved over the last 1.5 million years or so--long after people and chimps had emerged as different species 7 to 10 million years ago. Although they're not sure why humans developed mutations of the gene that aren't sensitive to PTC, Wooding, Bamshad, and their co-researchers theorize that people who can't taste the substance developed sensitivity to a different, bitter compound, which might have provided an evolutionary advantage.

The researchers also conducted a taste test with 39 chimpanzees, to observe their sensitivity to PTC. Using a test similar to that used in many classrooms, in which children are asked to taste a piece of paper containing minute concentrations of PTC, they fed plain apples and apples soaked in small concentrations of PTC to the chimps. (PTC is not harmful and the chimps suffered no ill effects from eating it.) These results verified the same gene is responsible for the ability to taste or not taste PTC in both humans and chimps.

Comparisons of the taste test results with a gene sequence analysis showed that, like humans, chimps carry two forms of the PTC gene, but unlike the functional non-taster form that reduces PTC sensitivity humans, the one found in chimps is broken. After examining the
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Contact: Phil Sahm
Phil.Sahm@hsc.utah.edu
801-581-2517
University of Utah Health Sciences Center
12-Apr-2006


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