Genetics may explain why some people hate meat, study says

Posted: May 4, 2012 at 11:10 pm

(CBS News) Love meat? Hate meat? The reason for your answer may come down to genes. In a new study, scientists investigated whether people with a stronger sensitivity to the smell of pork are more likely to be meat-eaters.

Flavor is a combination of factors including taste and smell. According to the study, some people have receptors that detect a steroid called androstenone, which is found in high concentrations in male pigs - and in turn pork. Most commercially raised animals in the U.S. are actually castrated to get rid of the smell, but previous research has found that people who have two copies of the gene that helps sense androstenone still smell the odor - and might have a mixed reaction to pork.

"For those who are very sensitive to it, it's really disgusting. It's a sweaty, urine-like odor," Dr. Hiroaki Matsunami, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. , told WebMD. "For others, you can smell it, but it's not as bad. Those people say it smells fragrant, chemical, or sweet."

For the study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers examined the difference between people with one copy of the gene that helps detect androstenone and those with two. The study had 23 participants - 13 regular eaters and 10 "professional sensory assessors" who have sensitive noses and are trained to pick up certain scents. Participants were exposed to androstenone daily for six weeks, and then asked to evaluate samples of cooked meat with different levels of androstenone.

The participants rated the taste and smell of the meat - and then the researchers tested their genes. What did they find? Participants who rated the flavor of pork as bad were more likely to have two copies of the gene that picks up the scent.

"I was surprised at how cleanly this experiment showed who smelled what," Matsunami said in a university news release. "The results showed that people with two copies of the functional variant of the gene for that odor receptor thought that the meat smelled worse with higher levels of androstenone added."

These findings suggest that vegetarians may have a genetic predisposition against meat, according to Matsunami.

What do you think of the smell of meat?

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Genetics may explain why some people hate meat, study says

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