Bitter taste is one of the most important senses alerting humans to noxious foods. In gatherer communities, sensitivity to bitterness is presumably advantageous because of various noxious plants. TAS2R16 is the gene coding the taste receptor molecules for some of the most common toxins in plants. A previous study of this gene indicated selection has increased the frequency of a derived allele in this gene that arose before the human expansion out of Africa. We have applied a different methodology for detecting selection, the Long Range Haplotype (LRH) analysis, to TAS2R16 in a larger sampling of populations from around the world. The haplotype with the derived alleles at both the functional polymorphism and a polymorphism in the regulatory region of TAS2R16 showed evidence for recent positive selection in most of the Eurasian populations, though the highest selection signal occurs in Mbuti Pygmies, an African hunter-gatherer group. In Eurasia, only populations of Mesopotamia and the southeast coast of China have no signals of selection. The evidence of recent selection found in most Eurasian populations differs from the geographic pattern seen in the earlier study of selection. One can speculate that the difference may result from a gathering lifestyle extending into the most recent 10,000 yrs and the need to recognize newly encountered bitter natural toxins as populations expanded into new environments and the biota changes with the ending of the most recent ice age. Alternatively, the promoter region variant may be a marker for altered function beyond what the derived amino acid allele conferred.
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Vol. 83 • No. 3