Phenylthiocarbamide, also known as PTC, or phenylthiourea, is an organic molecule. It has the unusual property of either tasting very bitter, or being virtually tasteless, depending on the genetic makeup of the taster. The ability to taste PTC is a dominant genetic trait. The test to determine PTC sensitivity is one of the most common genetic tests on humans. PTC has a chemical formula of: C7H8N2S
About 70% of people can taste PTC, varying from a low of 58% for Aboriginal people of Australia and New Guinea to 98% for Indigenous peoples of the Americas. One study has found that non-smokers and those not habituated to coffee or tea have a statistically higher percentage of tasters than the general population. There is conflicting evidence whether a higher percentage of women taste PTC versus men.
The genetic taste phenomenon of PTC was discovered in 1931 when a DuPont chemist named Arthur Fox accidentally released a cloud of a fine crystalline PTC. A nearby colleague complained about the bitter taste, while Dr. Fox, who was closer and should have gotten a strong dose, tasted nothing. Fox then continued to test the taste buds of assorted family and friends, setting the groundwork for future genetic studies. The genetic correlation was so strong that it was used in paternity tests before the advent of DNA matching.
Role in Taste
Although there is not a lot of research on the subject, it is believed that your reaction to PTC is a generic indicator of how effective your bitterness receptors are. People who find PTC bitter may also find cigarette smoke to be more offensive, and it may also help explain the vast gulf between the people who enjoy coriander and those who find it unpalatable.
L. Kameswaran, S. Gopalakrishnan, M. Sukumar, (1974). Phenylthiocarbamide and Naringin Taste Threshold in South Indian Medical Students, Ind. J. Pharmac., 6 (3). 134-140.
- Dennis Drayna's home page. Drayna has done extensive studies of PTC in various populations
- Population Study and Applications Using PTC Paper
- Classroom activity description using PTC paper
- A report on the discovery of PTC
- Information on PTC in the Population and the effects of PTC on humans
- Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) 171200 Thiourea tasting