CHOCOHOLICS no longer need to feel guilty about their craving. They are simply the victims of their genes, scientists have found.

The so-called “sweet tooth gene” has been identified by separate teams of researchers and helps explain why some find it harder to resist chocolate bars and cream cakes.

It also raises the possibility of designing a drug which could “switch off the gene and help people resist sugary foods. Children, in particular, risk their health by eating too many sweets and chocolates.

To identify the gene, the research teams – based at Harvard Medical School in Boston and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York – conducted almost identical experiments using mice which have differences in their ability to taste sweet foods. They compared the DNA of the two types of mice and noticed differences in the gene called TlR3. Dr.Gopi Shanker, of the Mount Sinai team, said: “It contains information which produces a protein called «the sweet taste receptor».

This recognises the sweet content of food and initiates a cascade of events which signal to the brain that a sweet food has been eaten. Dr. Shanker added: “Exactly the same gene exists in humans, so it means that, if your parents have a sweet tooth, then you probably will as well.”

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Research by the Harvard team has come to the same conclusion. But Aubrey Sheiham, professor of dental public health at University College, London, said the results did not provide chocoholics with an excuse to give up dieting. He said: “We have always known that some people have a sweeter tooth than others. But it has also been proved that if you gradually expose people to less sugar, then the body becomes accustomed with a lower level of sweetness.

Mr. Sheiham warned against any form of gene therapy which sought to deactivate the sweet tooth gene.

We have produced this gene through evolution because sweet foods in nature are not poisonous and also give us energy. We all need to have some sugar in our diet.The U.S. researchers are using their discovery to develop artificial sweeteners without an aftertaste.

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