Scientists identify human receptor for detecting fat

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 16th January 2012

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, in the United States, claim to have identified a human receptor that can detect fat – irrespective of taste. Their research suggests that some people may be more sensitive to the presence of fat in foods.

The researchers found that people with a particular variant of the CD36 gene are far more sensitive to the presence of fat than others. Their study is available online in the Journal of Lipid Research.

The researchers studied 21 people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, which is considered to be obese. Some participants had a genetic variant that led to the production of more CD36. Others made much less. And some were in between.

Participants were asked to taste solutions from three different cups. One contained small amounts of a fatty oil. The other two contained solutions that were similar in texture to the oil but were fat-free. Subjects were asked to choose the cup that was different.

People who made more CD36 protein could easily detect the presence of fat. In fact, study subjects who made the most CD36 were eight times more sensitive to the presence of fat than those who made about 50 per cent less of the protein.

Up to 20 per cent of people are believed to have the variant in the CD36 gene that is associated with making significantly less CD36 protein. That, in turn, could mean they are less sensitive to the presence of fat in food.

Washington University’s Professor Robert A. Atkins said, “Scientists have believed that people identify those high-fat foods mainly by texture, but this study suggests that the presence of fat can change the way our tongues perceive the food, just as it does for the tastes sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory.

“What we will need to determine in the future is whether our ability to detect fat in foods influences our fat intake, which clearly would have an impact on obesity.”