A Genome-Wide Association Study in isolated populations reveals new genes associated to common food likings

  • Nicola PirastuEmail author
  • Maarten Kooyman
  • Michela Traglia
  • Antonietta Robino
  • Sara M. Willems
  • Giorgio Pistis
  • Najaf Amin
  • Cinzia Sala
  • Lennart C. Karssen
  • Cornelia Van Duijn
  • Daniela Toniolo
  • Paolo Gasparini


Food preferences are the first factor driving food choice and thus nutrition. They involve numerous different senses such as taste and olfaction as well as various other factors such as personal experiences and hedonistic aspects. Although it is clear that several of these have a genetic basis, up to now studies have focused mostly on the effects of polymorphisms of taste receptor genes. Therefore, we have carried out one of the first large scale (4611 individuals) GWAS on food likings assessed for 20 specific food likings belonging to 4 different categories (vegetables, fatty, dairy and bitter). A two-step meta-analysis using three different isolated populations from Italy for the discovery step and two populations from The Netherlands and Central Asia for replication, revealed 15 independent genome-wide significant loci (p < 5 × 10−8) for 12 different foods. None of the identified genes coded for either taste or olfactory receptors suggesting that genetics impacts in determining food likings in a much broader way than simple differences in taste perception. These results represent a further step in uncovering the genes that underlie liking of common foods that in the end will greatly help understanding the genetics of human nutrition in general.


Food preferences Food consumption Food choice GWAS Association study Isolated populations 



We would like to thank all the participants in the various studies for their contribution and support.

The SR study has been founded by the Region Friuli Venezia Giulia grant number 35\09 Linea 2 “Sulle tracce di Marco Polo: geni, gusto e loro implicazioni sulla salute lungo la Via della Seta”.

The INGI-FVG study was founded through the Italian Ministry of health.

We thank the inhabitants and the administrators of the Val Borbera for their participation in the study. A special thanks to Professor Clara Camaschella, Dr Silvia Bione, Dr Laura Crocco, Ms Maria Rosa Biglieri, Dr Diego Sabbi for help with the data collection. We thank Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo, Torino, Fondazione Cariplo, Milano and Health Ministry (Progetto Finalizzato and Italian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) for financial support.

The ERF study as a part of EUROSPAN (European Special Populations Research Network) was supported by European Commission FP6 STRP grant number 018947 (LSHG-CT-2006-01947) and also received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/grant agreement HEALTH-F4-2007-201413 by the European Commission under the programme “Quality of Life and Management of the Living Resources” of 5th Framework Programme (no. QLG2-CT-2002-01254). High-throughput analysis of the ERF data was supported by joint grant from Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (NWO-RFBR 047.017.043). We are grateful to all study participants and their relatives, general practitioners and neurologists for their contributions and to P. Veraart for her help in genealogy, J. Vergeer for the supervision of the laboratory work and P. Snijders for his help in data collection. Statistical analyses were partly carried out on the Genetic Cluster Computer ( which is financially supported by the Netherlands Scientific Organization (NWO 480-05-003 PI: Posthuma) along with a supplement from the Dutch Brain Foundation and the VU University Amsterdam. This research was financially supported by BBMRI-NL, a Research Infrastructure financed by the Dutch Government (NWO 184.021.007). The work of LCK was partially funded by the FP7 projects MIMOmics (grant no. 305280) and Pain-Omics (grant no. 602736).

Author contribution

Conceived and designed the experiments: NP LN PG. Performed the experiments: NP SMW MT GP LCK AR PDA AD. Analyzed the data: NP MK CS. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: CVD DT PG NA. Wrote the paper: NP MK LCK PG.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethics statement

Consent forms for clinical and genetic studies were signed by each participant and all research was conducted according to the ethical standards defined by the Helsinki declaration. The INGI-CARL, INGI-FVG and SR studies have been approved by the Institutional Review Board of IRCCS Burlo Garofolo PROT CE/v-78 in Trieste Italy. The INGI-VB study was approved by San Raffaele Hospital and Regione Piemonte ethical committees. The ERF study was approved by the Erasmus institutional medical-ethics committee in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Competing financial interests

The author(s) declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary material

11154_2016_9354_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (42.4 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 43369 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicola Pirastu
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Maarten Kooyman
    • 3
  • Michela Traglia
    • 5
  • Antonietta Robino
    • 1
  • Sara M. Willems
    • 3
  • Giorgio Pistis
    • 5
  • Najaf Amin
    • 3
  • Cinzia Sala
    • 5
  • Lennart C. Karssen
    • 3
    • 6
  • Cornelia Van Duijn
    • 3
    • 4
  • Daniela Toniolo
    • 5
  • Paolo Gasparini
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Maternal and Child Health - IRCCS “Burlo Garofolo”TriesteItaly
  2. 2.University of TriesteTriesteItaly
  3. 3.Genetic Epidemiology Unit, Department of EpidemiologyErasmus Medical CenterRotterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Centre for Medical Systems BiologyLeiden University Medical CenterLeidenThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Division of Genetics and Cell BiologySan Raffaele Scientific InstituteMilanoItaly
  6. 6.PolyOmicaGroningenThe Netherlands

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