“Supertasters” Might Be Protected Against COVID-19

Variants in a bitter taste receptor appear to be protective

F. Perry Wilson, MD MSCE
5 min readMay 26, 2021


This week, straight from the, that’s-just-crazy-enough-to-be-true file — a study that suggests that perception of bitter taste can predict whether you’ll catch COVID and how bad your disease will be.

And no — before you go there — this is NOT a study that says that the degree to which you lose taste AFTER you get COVID tells you how sick you’ll get. This study, appearing in JAMA Network Open looked at people before they got the disease.

OK here’s what you need to know.

First off, there are certain genetic traits that change how you perceive certain tastes. You may have heard that some people have a mutation that makes delicious cilantro taste like horrible soap. My condolences to these poor souls who can never truly enjoy guacamole.

But that’s not the only taste-linked gene. The gene of interest in this study is called T2R38. It is a bitter taste receptor, and there are essentially two flavors of the gene, one called PAV and one called AVI.

And they said genetics was complicated

If you inherit two copies of PAV, certain chemicals like propothiouracil taste obnoxiously bitter to you. If you inherit two copies of AVI — you don’t taste it at all. And if you have one copy of each, you’re somewhere in the middle.

What does this have to do with COVID?

Well, bitter taste receptors are special because they don’t just live on the tongue. T2R38 is expressed throughout the respiratory tract and, when it is activated, causes cells in those areas to release nitric oxide. That nitric oxide causes the cilium in your nose to beat faster — getting the offensive particles out of there.

Nitric oxide also has some in vitro activity against original SARS , for what it’s worth.



F. Perry Wilson, MD MSCE

Medicine, science, statistics. Associate Professor of Medicine at Yale University. New book “How Medicine Works and When it Doesn’t” available now.