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article imageCan genetics explain our food preferences?

By Tim Sandle     Oct 12, 2016 in Science
Meat, vegetables or fish? Whether craving pasta or a chocolate bar our food preferences appear to have a genetic basis, according to a new study.
A genetic basis to food preferences is a controversial subject. How much of the food we prefer – whether salty or sugary for example – is based on a pre-determined mechanism and how much is learnt behavior has long been hotly contested. One reason for the uncertainty is because no specific influencing pathway has been identified, at least until now.
According to Dr. Sadaf Farooqi, who is a professor of neuroscience at University of Cambridge (U.K.), a gene has been discovered that appears to cause food preference changes. This is based in studies in mice, and the researchers infer that because the same gene is found in people the same mechanism could be at play.
The research, as summarized by Popular Science, stems from studies on the mechanism associated with human obesity. Here melanocortin-4-receptor (MC4R)-expressing neurons in the hypothalamus region of the brain, where there are associated MC4R mutations, appear to be cause of inherited human obesity.
Further studies, using mice, have shown that melanocortin-4-receptor (MC4R)-expressing neurons in mice modulate food intake and preference. Where there are mutations in MC4R, this results in increased eating and a tendency to prefer a high fat diet and foods high in sugar.
Research by Dr. Farooqi on MC4R deficient people found they were similar, in terms of food preferences, to MC4R deficient mice. This means that, by association, people with this gene mutation seem to prefer high fat and low sucrose content foods.
In trials, MC4R deficient people consumed 95 percent more high fat meals than a control group. There was a similar tendency towards sugary foods.
Dr. Farooqi’s findings support those previously found in mice, with implication being there is a genetic influence to certain food preferences with people. Further research will be required, and if confirmed this could help with the management of some metabolic diseases.
The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications, with the research titled “Divergent effects of central melanocortin signalling on fat and sucrose preference in humans.”
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