Neanderthal taste test reported in BBC News, 11 Aug 2009. Anyone who has studied human genetics at high school or college will be familiar with a taste test for a chemical named phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) which has a bitter flavour and is found in some green vegetables including broccoli and brussel sprouts. About one quarter of the population can’t taste it because they do not have the right taste receptor for it due to a variation in a taste receptor gene named TAS2R38. A team of researchers led by Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva in Barcelona, have analysed DNA from a Neanderthal bone, dated as 48,000 years old, and found the TAS2R38 gene, the same as in modern humans. The bone was carefully excavated under sterile conditions and frozen straight away to prevent it from being contaminated by modern DNA.

Analysis of the gene revealed the Neanderthal person was a non-taster. According to the research team, this means the genetic variation in the taste gene evolved before the Neanderthal and modern human lineage split. Lalueza-Fox told BBC News: “The non-taster is not something that occurs just in modern populations. It is something that was present at least half a million years ago.”


Editorial Comment: The ability to taste PTC was once used as evidence of a link between chimps and humans because chimps show a similar variation in the ability to taste this substance. However, a recent study showed chimps have a different variation of the gene than humans. This new Neanderthal evidence is one more proof they too are very different from Chimps and fully human. In spite of claims that Neanderthals were a different species, whenever specific studies of Neanderthal biology are completed the results always fit the normal human range. (Ref. anthropology, genetics)

Evidence News, 2 September 2009