A Matter of Taste


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De gustibus non est disputandum, as the saying goes, emphasizes the futility of arguing over personal taste. An Institute team headed by Prof. Doron Lancet of the Molecular Genetics Department has found why this is true. In our genome, around 1,000 genes code for the nose's odor-detecting receptors (responsible for our sense of smell and a great part of flavor perception). Of these, more than half have become totally inactive in humans, a fact that has been known for years. In a surprising discovery, published in Nature Genetics, the team showed that at least 50 genes are "optional"-  they can be active in some individuals and inactive in others. This high level of genetic variation accounts for the differences in our sense of taste and smell. The study also shows that the obliteration level of odor-detecting receptors varies among different ethnic groups. The findings could lead to fundamental changes in the cosmetics and foodstuff industries, which might be able to tailor their products to the tastes of their customers.


Prof. Lancet's research was supported by the Jean-Jacques Brunschwig Fund for the Molecular Genetics of Cancer; the Crown Human Genome Center; the Avraham and Judy Goldwasser Fund; the Philip M. Klutznick Research Fund; and the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation. He is the incumbent of the Ralph and Lois Silver Professorial Chair in Human Genomics.