Find coffee bitter? Taste-linked gene identified that could be protecting millions of people from getting COVID

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Credit: Genome Web
Credit: Genome Web

People’s perception of taste (coffee tasting very bitter, slightly bitter or not bitter at all, for example) has been known for over a decade to be associated with their immune response to respiratory infections and sinus infections — stronger perception of bitterness reflects stronger immunity. But past studies of this connection have focused on bacterial infections and inflammation, not viruses. [Ear nose and throat surgeon Henry] Barham wondered whether taste receptors could be connected to the coronavirus.

From July 1 through Sept. 30, 2020, they followed 1,935 patients and health-care workers who had been exposed to the coronavirus but had neither a previous nor current infection… About half were classified as tasters, a quarter as nontasters, and a quarter as supertasters [having the T2R38 gene]. 

Nontasters, the researchers found in [a recently published study], were far more likely to contract the disease and for their symptoms to last longer: an average of 23.5 days — compared to five days for supertasters and 13.5 days for tasters.

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Barham says he hopes that what he and his team have discovered about the supertaster gene will help scientists to not only determine treatment for covid-19 but also advance their understanding of the flu and other viruses. 

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