Eur. J. Hum. Genet. 29 (2) 325-337 [2021-02-00; online 2020-10-01]
Taste is essential for the interaction of animals with their food and has co-evolved with diet. Humans have peopled a large range of environments and present a wide range of diets, but little is known about the diversity and evolution of human taste perception. We measured taste recognition thresholds across populations differing in lifestyles (hunter gatherers and farmers from Central Africa, nomad herders, and farmers from Central Asia). We also generated genome-wide genotype data and performed association studies and selection scans in order to link the phenotypic variation in taste sensitivity with genetic variation. We found that hunter gatherers have lower overall sensitivity as well as lower sensitivity to quinine and fructose than their farming neighbors. In parallel, there is strong population divergence in genes associated with tongue morphogenesis and genes involved in the transduction pathway of taste signals in the African populations. We find signals of recent selection in bitter taste-receptor genes for all four populations. Enrichment analysis on association scans for the various tastes confirmed already documented associations and revealed novel GO terms that are good candidates for being involved in taste perception. Our framework permitted us to gain insight into the genetic basis of taste sensitivity variation across populations and lifestyles.