The research conducted using the UK Biobank has identified over 500 genes that directly impact the foods we eat, making it one of the first comprehensive investigations of diet-related genes. This finding is a significant step towards using an individual’s genetic makeup to create personalized dietary plans that can enhance health and prevent diseases.

The study utilized a phenome-wide association study (PheWAS) to explore the genetic connections with nutrition in comparison to other aspects of health and lifestyle. By analyzing genetic variations and various human traits and behaviors, including dietary intake, researchers were able to uncover genes that had stronger associations with diet.

“Some genes we identified are related to sensory pathways — including those for taste, smell, and texture — and may also increase the reward response in the brain,” stated research team leader Joanne Cole, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Because some of these genes may have clear paths toward influencing whether someone likes a food or not, they could potentially be used to create sensory genetic profiles for fine-tuning a person’s dietary recommendations based on foods they like to eat.”

One of the main challenges in identifying diet-related genes is the multitude of factors that influence what people eat, including health conditions like high cholesterol or body weight, as well as socioeconomic status. To address this, the researchers applied computational methods to distinguish the direct effects of genetic variants on diet from indirect effects that may be influenced by other factors. The extensive data available in the UK Biobank, including detailed genetic, health, and socioeconomic information, made this study design possible.

The analysis revealed approximately 300 genes that were directly associated with the consumption of specific foods and almost 200 genes linked to dietary patterns that group various foods together, such as overall fish intake or fruit consumption.

Moving forward, the researchers plan to further study the newly identified diet-related genes to better understand their functions. They also aim to identify additional genes that directly influence food preferences. One potential application of this research is in developing translational studies, such as using a person’s genetics to tailor the flavor profile of a diet designed for weight loss, potentially improving adherence to such diets.

“The study showed that dietary patterns tend to have more indirect genetic effects, meaning they were correlated with a lot of other factors,” stated Cole. “This shows how important it is not to study dietary patterns in a vacuum, because the eating pattern’s impact on human health may be completely mediated or confounded by other factors.”

These findings were presented at NUTRITION 2023, the annual flagship meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, held in July 2023 in Boston. The implications of this research could have significant impacts on personalized nutrition and health interventions in the future.

“If we know that a gene encoding an olfactory receptor in the nose increases a person’s liking of fruit and boosts the reward response in the brain, then molecular studies of this receptor could be used to identify natural or synthetic compounds that bind to it,” Cole said. “Then, we could see if adding one of those compounds to healthy foods makes those foods more appealing to that person.”


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.

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