Thursday, August 8, 2013

Are We Genetically Predisposed to Like IPA?

Okay, maybe not just IPA.

Alexandra Sifferlin at (Hey, didn't I just write about them?) is reporting on the findings of a group of scientist who are looking at the links between our senses and our DNA. It turns out how we see, taste, touch, hear and smell—or at least how we individually perceive those sense—is tied pretty closely to our genetic make-up. Geneticist Dennis Drayana of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, say this:
“Think about it. You and I know what green is, or what a rose smells like, but does green look to you the same as it looks to me? Maybe, but maybe not. What you and I call green may be slightly different things. There’s no doubt this is going on, and it is going to become better understood.”
Drayana has been studying the perception of taste and has linked a gene to the bitter taste receptors in the cells of our taste buds. He and his team have also found that the gene's DNA codes vary, resulting in some people being able to taste some bitter flavors that others cannot. The group is also working on how genetic variants affect the perception of sweetness, as well.

In related study, recently published in Current Biology, scientist from New Zealand's Plant and Food Research have been looking at smell sensitivity and how it relates to our genes. Ten odors—relating to apples, violets, blue cheese and malt—were offered to hundreds of subjects. In the case of the malt, the participants could either smell the malt's slightly sour odor, or nothing at all. The study's author Jeremy McRae notes:
“These smells are found in foods and drinks that people encounter every day, such as tomatoes and apples. This might mean that when people sit down to eat a meal, they each experience it in their own personalized way,”
If we perceive bitterness and a malty smell as pleasant—or unpleasant—it might not be so far-fetched to think that somewhere, deep-down were programed to either like or not like beer, and perhaps even IPA, specifically. There's always been somewhat of a divide between those who like very bitter brews like IPA and those who don't. Perhaps those who lean toward IPA, don't perceive its bitterness quite as aggressively, and therefore can tolerate its hoppy bite a little bit better. Maybe, for some, IPA is just too bitter and others it's not.

There's also another, perhaps darker, issue with these studies. There's a growing concern and a substantial body of evidence suggesting alcoholism may be linked to genetics, although the specific gene has not been identified. A Swedish study in 1990 showed that there is a genetic component to alcoholism. Incidences of alcoholism were followed in twins—adopted but raised apart—throughout their lives. While the incidences were slightly higher in those twins exposed to alcoholism through their adoptive families, rates of alcoholism in those twins whose biological parents were alcoholics, was far greater. I'm not a geneticist, but having a genetic predisposition to alcoholism and a genetic code that makes you like the taste and smell of beer, seems like a troubling mix.

In any case, figuring out the perfect beer for your buddy or girlfriend just got a lot easier. Now all you need is a blood, urine or tissue sample, a DNA sequencer, a horizontal or vertical electrophoresis system, a thermocycler, a spectrophotometer and/or the willingness to wait a few weeks to several months for the results.


  1. Admit it. That headline is a Dave Chappelle line. Lol

  2. Great write up! I love learning things and that closing suggestion on the best way to find a present for one's loved ones is pure class.