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Differences in a person's sense of taste might have a major impact on that person's health, say medical researchers at Yale University, New Haven, Conn. One out of four people are "super-tasters," or are especially sensitive to bitterness, and might normally avoid cancer- fighting fruits and vegetables such as brussel sprouts and spinach.

Female super-tasters are less keen on sugar and fat than other women and are on average the thinnest group. Male super-tasters prefer fatty, sugary foods. The researchers found that genetic variations give super -tasters more tiny, mushroom-shaped knobs on their tongues called "fungiform papillae" than others. Having a lot more of these knobs puts super-tasters "in a much larger taste world than others," says researcher Linda Bartoshuk.

This super-trait might originally have evolved as a defense mechanism, because most bitter-tasting substances are to some degree toxic. However, super-tasting as a consequence could also keep a person from eating healthy foods. Bartoshuk says further research on the human genome will probably yield a simple blood test for taste sensitivity that could help people pay closer attention to their diets.

The researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.