Monday, May 7, 2012

Look Out for the Meat Gene!

More interesting stuff from the frontiers of science: A study conducted by scientists at Duke University Medical Center in the United States and a group of researchers in Norway found that people who dislike meat are genetically predisposed to be disgusted by the smell of it.

The researchers were particularly focused on a gene called OR7D4 that is "linked to an odor receptor that detects a compound called androstenone, which is found in male mammals, and is most commonly detectable in pork meat." (Source)

Apparently, people with two functioning copies of that gene can more easily zero in on the smell of androstenone, while those with one or no functioning copies of the gene cannot detect the odor. Interestingly, it is the people who can detect the smell (researchers estimate 70 percent of people have two functioning copies of the gene) that are far more likely to be repulsed by it. Those who cannot detect it are more likely to like meat.

Tests were conducted on 23 human participants. Researchers concluded that the desire - or lack thereof - for meat could often be determined by the number of functioning OR7D4 genes in a subject. One of the researchers, Dr. Hiroaki Matsunami, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke, pointed out that the presence of the OR7D4 genes in people are often a determinant in whether they will like meat. Not just pork. All kinds of meat.

"The male pork meat contains relatively high levels of androstenone, but you can also find it in other types of meat," said Dr. Matsunami. "In fact, androstenone is also found in human sweat, so it's not a pig-specific chemical." (Source)

It is encouraging to know that 70 percent of the population is genetically inclined to find the odor of meat repellent. But don't expect to wake up tomorrow to read headlines that over two-thirds of all people have gone vegan. There's a reason why meats are often cooked with spices and sauces that probably end up overwhelming the smell of androstenone. It's the same reason the walls around slaughterhouses are so high and so thick. Denial is the key word. Still, this is an interesting story. You can read about it here.

The Smiths had it right all along!
But I also think it's a mistake to over-emphasize the genetics angle. I myself used to love meat - every kind of meat imaginable - and now I can't stand the stuff. Hate to look at it. Hate to smell it. Would starve to death before I had to actually put it in my mouth. Once upon a time, I was the person for whom the Meat Lover's Pizza was invented. Now I find the concept of a Meat Lover's Pizza to be horrific, gross and completely inedible.

For a long time, I assumed learning and socialization (nurture rather than nature) had a lot do with that. But who knows? It's starting to sound like there is a genetic component to vegetarianism and veganism. It would be interesting to know how many of us fit the right genetic coding for people who are disgusted by meat and how many of us are sickened by it in spite of our genetic composition.

Food for thought.

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