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Can You Roll Your Tongue Like This?

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, Science Teacher

Can you roll your tongue like this?  (Click on the picture to see the full image.)

If you can, chances are one or more of your family members can too. This trait along with other characteristics like blue eyes, curly hair and lactose intolerance, is inherited or built into your genes and passed on from one generation to the next.

While some inherited genes code for severe and sometimes lethal genetic disorders, others can give insight into the workings of the human body in ways that would amaze you.

This brings me to asparagus. While this may seem like quite a jump, I assure you it’s not. When you eat asparagus, your body metabolizes this vegetable producing a sulfur compound that causes an odor in your urine. While this happens in all humans, only those with extra adenine in the rs4481887 region of their genome are born with receptors that are able to detect it.

Do you have the gene? You can find out by completing a simple experiment using The Scientific Method.

Problem/Question-Do you have the extra adenines in the rs4481887 region of your genome (asparagus stinky pee gene)?

Observations-See the information above and do a little of your own research. (Ask your family members if they have the gene.)

Hypothesis-If I can detect an odor in my urine after eating asparagus, I will know I have extra adenines in the rs4481887 region of my genome and the receptors it codes for.


Materials-asparagus, toilet

Procedure-eat asparagus (cooked or raw)

Make observations as you pee. You don't need to collect any urine, if you can smell it, you'll know it!

Data-Analyze your observations. Did you notice an odor when you urinated after eating asparagus?

Conclusion-If you noticed an odor in your urine after eating asparagus, you have the gene. If you did not detect an odor in your urine, you don't have the gene. Don't consider yourself a loser if you don't have the gene. It is not a pleasant odor!

Please report back and let me know your findings. Brownie points if you can get some of your family members to participate in this experiment!

In the coming year, we will study your genes in depth. We'll do a lab to find out if you're a "supertaster" and even look into the genes of the British, Russian and Spanish royal families. This summer, my husband and I had our genetic information analyzed by the 23andMe company. You will be using the actual results of our genetic analysis to predict what my hypothetical children could look like! This is just the tip of the iceberg. You're going to learn so many amazing things this year. I hope you're up for the challenge!

Photo source: http://www.funnypictures.net.au/images/amazing-tongue-tricks1.jpg

We are welcoming students to class this spring either via a hybrid in-person/online learning model in NYC (following our Spring Break), or via fully remote, synchronous online classes.  Learn more about our response to COVID-19 >