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I don’t remember which grade it was where I learned something about my tastebuds that
can never be unlearned, but the event and the lesson with genetics has stuck with me
For you see, I learned that my tastebuds cannot taste PTC.
Let me preface this with explaining that PTC stands for this –we’ll stick with PTC---and
it’s a chemical that can be sold on these paper strips.
It can be purchased under the name PTC paper, and it is popular in genetic classes because
it has this fascinating quality: some people put it on their tongue and immediately say,
“Yuck, this is bitter!”
And some people, when they place the paper on their tongue…taste absolutely nothing.
Well, unless you consider the paper.
Does paper have a taste in itself?
That’s a debatable question but the point is…some people can taste PTC.
Some people cannot taste PTC.
And I was really disappointed, because I remember that I was the only one there that could not
taste it so here was everyone getting this amazing science experience and I couldn’t
taste a thing.
there may have been more than just me that couldn’t taste it in the classroom that
day, but they didn’t seem as concerned by the fear of missing out of the PTC paper as I
I remember someone trying to make me feel better by saying, “Oh, but it tastes bitter!
You’re actually lucky.”
Then they tried to describe what it tasted like to me.
But it’s not the same; I guess I’ll never know for myself what it would have
Of course, the reason PTC paper is used in genetic classes is because the trait of being
able, or not being able, to taste PTC is based on genetics!
A reminder from our intro to heredity unit that genes are portions of DNA, and they have
the ability to code for a characteristic--- a trait.
Like being able to taste, or not to taste, PTC.
Now we do want to point out that many traits are actually coded for by interactions of
more than one gene.
Like eye color, which is quite complex, and determined by interactions of many genes together.
In fact, the ability to taste PTC or not, may involve some other gene interactions.
There’s even different ranges for how bitter the chemical may taste because there may be
more kinds of alleles than we’ll mention---more about that later.
But since we do know that the ability to taste PTC or not taste PTC is at least heavily impacted
by a specific gene, it does make it powerful for genetic classes.
One thing I found so interesting is that my parents can both taste PTC.
So why can’t I?
Recall that humans have 46 chromosomes.
Chromosomes are made up of DNA and protein.
It’s a condensed unit of DNA.
My whole genetic code is represented by these chromosomes.
You inherit 23 chromosomes from your mother and 23 chromosomes from your father.
Here's all 46 of them right here. As you can see, there are 23 chromosome pairs.
Each pair has one chromosome from one parent
and one chromosome from my other parent.
If we focus on one of these pairs of chromosomes where the PTC taste sensitivity gene may be
found, we can see an area where the PTC taste sensitivity gene could be.
Let’s assume this is the locus where the PTC taste sensitivity gene is found---see
how it is pointing to a specific area here?
That’s because it’s on an area on the chromosomes that refers to a specific gene that codes
for a trait.
Now, remember how this chromosome is from mom.
This one is from dad.
Each parent contributes an allele---which is a variant of a gene.
An allele is a variety of a gene; a form of a gene.
The alleles could be the same form of the gene or different forms of the gene---but
regardless, in this case, they’re forms of the gene involved with PTC taste sensitivity.
So if PTC taste sensitivity is being used as a one gene trait example---and as we mentioned
it may not be that be simple---- then your DNA code has a gene related to PTC taste sensitivity.
Together the two alleles you inherit, the forms of that gene, determine the trait of
tasting PTC or the trait of not tasting PTC.
That gene is involved with coding for taste receptors on your tongue and the receptors
you have can make a difference for whether you taste PTC or not.
The alleles are typically represented by letters.
Since this is all about tasting, let’s use the letter T. But wait---it matters whether
I represent it as a capital or lowercase letter!
If I use a capital letter to represent an allele, it means it’s a dominant allele.
If one---or both---of the alleles you inherited for a trait are dominant, then it will be
More about that later.
If I use a lowercase letter to represent an allele, that means it’s a recessive allele.
Recessive alleles are typically not expressed unless there is no dominant allele present.
Now remember that you have two allele copies, so the combinations you can have here could be TT, Tt, or
These are called genotypes.
Your genetic makeup.
Genotypes can help determine a phenotype, which is a physical characteristic.
You’ll notice when writing genotypes, I put the capital letters first if it contains
a capital letter.
That’s not because the order matters; it’s a formatting formality that capitals are written
It turns out that being able to taste PTC is a dominant trait.
That means the phenotype, which is a PTC taster, is due to a genotype that includes
at least one dominant allele.
So which genotypes can taste PTC then?
Well TT can; both of those alleles are dominant.
So can Tt, because remember it only takes the presence of one dominant allele.
In fact, the only genotype in this simplified example to not be able to taste PTC would
So obviously that is what I am.
I am the tt genotype which results in my non-taster phenotype.
But my parents can taste PTC...
So what genotypes would they have to be?
Well if they were both TT, that wouldn’t be possible.
If one was TT and one was Tt, that still wouldn’t be possible.
Remember you have to get an allele, a form of a gene, from EACH parent.
If my parents do taste PTC and I do not, then my parents have the genotype Tt.
And their phenotype is PTC taster.
Punnett squares can be used to determine the probabilities of offspring having certain
genotypes---which then can be used to determine their phenotypes.
But Punnett squares are for another Amoeba Sisters video.
Before we end, one more thing to mention.
In this example, the dominant trait of being able to taste PTC is more common than the
recessive trait of not being able to taste PTC.
And one could jump to an assumption that dominant traits are more common, especially since it
only takes the presence of one dominant allele to show up in the phenotype.
At least, in Mendelian inheritance.
But the dominant trait is not always more common in a population, because it's possible
that the dominant allele itself is more rare.
That can be the case with some forms of polydactyly…that is being born with extra fingers.
Some forms of polydactyly can be a dominant trait caused by the presence of at least one
dominant allele; however, the dominant allele may not be as common in the population and
the condition of having extra fingers is generally rare.
Well that’s it for the amoeba sisters and we remind you to stay curious.