Monday 14 October 2019

Scientists examine sprout conundrum

Scientists are trying to work out why so many people dislike Brussels sprouts (James Ram)
Scientists are trying to work out why so many people dislike Brussels sprouts (James Ram)

Young scientists are investigating the science of one of the key festive foods as they aim to answer the eternal Christmas dinner conundrum: Why can some people not stand Brussels sprouts?

A-level students are testing their DNA for the gene that is believed to determine whether a person likes their sprouts or not at the Eden Project in Cornwall.

The vegetables contain a bitter chemical similar to PTC (Phenylthiocarbamide) which tastes bitter to people that have a variation of a certain gene, a spokesman for the Eden Project said.

But those with a mutation on that gene do not taste the bitterness.

Around half of the world's population have the mutation, which scientists consider beneficial since people with it are more likely to enjoy eating Brussels sprouts, which are high in vitamin C and iron.

Alex Ledbrooke, Cornwall College science, technology, engineering and mathematics project manager, said: "Christmas dinner isn't usually associated with science. This hands-on project helps to do exactly that, as it explores why some people like and some hate Brussels sprouts."

The students are taking part in the tests as part of a national programme run by the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) and supported by the Wellcome Trust - which aims to give young people hands-on experience with DNA.

They will extract their own DNA with a cheek swab and amplify it using Polymerase Chain Reaction - a process that makes many copies of a small piece of DNA, giving enough to test for the gene.

They will see how evolution works with practical experience of DNA techniques used in hospitals, forensic services and research laboratories. Hands-on DNA workshops are being run by 15 science and discovery centres and museums across the UK, each acting as a specialist hub for schools in their region.

John Ellison, head of education strategy at the Eden Project, said: "These workshops use Brussels sprouts and our own DNA to show how humans and plants have evolved together."

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