Friday, 14 August 2009

A vegetable bite

No sooner had I become a twitterer than I began acting like a proper twit and forgot to keep a promise. Reading away getting material for my morning Crikey Breakfast Media Wrap I could not wait to pass on the information that scientists had discovered that Neanderthals didn’t like brussel sprouts either and twitted the news with the promise that details would be in the wrap. So, a little belatedly, here they are.

An article on the web site of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) headed “Algunos neandertales no podían percibir el sabor amargo” tells how Spanish researchers say they’re a step closer to resolving a “mystery of evolution” — why some people like brussel sprouts but others hate them. Apparently they have found that a gene in modern humans that makes some people dislike a bitter chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC, was also present in Neanderthals hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The scientists made the discovery after recovering and sequencing a fragment of the TAS2R38 gene taken from 48,000-year-old Neanderthal bones found at a site in El Sidron, in northern Spain.

This indicates that variation in bitter taste perception predates the divergence of the lineages leading to Neanderthals and modern humans,” they said.

Substances similar to PTC give a bitter taste to green vegetables such as brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbage as well as some fruits. But they are also present in some poisonous plants, so having a distaste for it makes evolutionary sense.

The sense of bitter taste protects us from ingesting toxic substances,” the report said.

At this point I should confess that the quotes above are not my translation of the Spanish original but are pinched from an AFP newsagency report which contains many more fascinating details.

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