Evolution Intelligent Design Medicine

Nobel Prize Medicine win exchanges evolution theorizing for solving a mystery

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They discovered the exact path by which chili peppers feel “hot” and mints feel “cold” when the signals reach our brains:

The 2021 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to David Julius of the University of California, San Francisco, and Ardem Patapoutian of Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, for “for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.”

It’s been a longstanding mystery why chili peppers feel hot to the taste:

“In order to truly appreciate Dr. Julius’ discovery, a bit of context may be in order. Unless you build up tolerance, eating spicy foods is painful. Peppers and wasabi give off a strange sensation that your mouth is on fire, and for the longest time researchers simply couldn’t figure out why this was the case. Failing to pinpoint any immediate benefits of this response, they speculated it must be the remnant of some distant evolutionary adaptation.

“Dr. Julius answered this question by showing us what TRPV1 is responsible for: keeping our bodies safe from high temperatures. The channel responds not only to capsaicin, but also to temperatures that are greater than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. TRPV1 also acts up when we are injured or sunburned, causing damaged tissue to feel hot to the touch. In all cases, the channel transmits a signal that our brains turn into the sensation of heat. – Tim Brinkhof, “Beyond Pain and Pressure: 2021 Nobel Prize for Medicine Awards Work on Sensory Perception” at Big Think (October 7, 2021)”

To track the system at work, researchers needed to catch it responding to a false heat signal created by the receptor for capsaicin, the substance that makes the chili peppers taste painfully hot.

The receptor is an ion channel (a protein) called TRPV1: It “opens when heat is sensed: ”

News, “Nobel Prize Medicine win solves a mystery in hot, cold sensing” at Mind Matters News

Takehome: By pinpointing actors and processes precisely, the work of Julius’s and Patapoutian’s teams may help address chronic pain — traditionally hard to resolve.

10 Replies to “Nobel Prize Medicine win exchanges evolution theorizing for solving a mystery

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    I can see how a channel that warns of potentially damaging heat could be advantageous from an evolutionary perspective.

    What I don’t understand is how some people can actually enjoy foods that to me are so hot they feel like they’re blowing the top of my head off.

  2. 2
    AaronS1978 says:

    I absolutely love it. I eat food that melts through cement

    Although I’d like to point out that the heat from a pepper and the heat from heat feel completely different to me

    The burning sensation from peppers makes my mouth water and it stings but it doesn’t feel hot per se

    While heat just sucks

  3. 3
    polistra says:

    Acquired pleasurable tolerance is the more interesting purpose. This one receptor, with its feedback circuit, helps us to eat and drink cooked and preserved food, and boiled water.

    When do we get the urge for more cooked and spicy food? When we’re cold, which is when we need to start salting and drying and smoking meat.

    I think we’ll eventually find that cooking is an innate human talent.

  4. 4
    Hanks says:

    I can see how a channel that warns of potentially damaging heat could be advantageous from an evolutionary perspective.

    First you have to prove evolution(from bug to bull) otherwise is circular reasoning and fairytales not science.

    it doesn’t feel hot per se

    🙂 That’s because you didn’t eat much.

  5. 5
    jerry says:

    What I find interesting is that spicy hot is the same as hot hot. I often comment that the food is hot but I then indicate that it is due to temperature or spices.

    I never equated the two.

  6. 6
    Bob O'H says:

    Jerry – in Germany they use “heiss” for temperature-hit and scharf (“sharp”) for spicy hot.

  7. 7
    Yarrgonaut says:

    The researcher gave up speculating about evolutionary history to make predictions, but made a discovery based on design mechanics. This is the kind of scientific puzzle solving utility that makes one paradigm superior to another. Even if it is a very small example.

  8. 8
    anthropic says:

    I always thought spicy food was a good response to a hot environment, as it encourages sweat. In a cold environment, sweat is a disadvantage, so cold weather societies tend to avoid highly spicy food. But maybe that’s too simple.

  9. 9
    JVL says:

    Anthropic: I always thought spicy food was a good response to a hot environment, as it encourages sweat. In a cold environment, sweat is a disadvantage, so cold weather societies tend to avoid highly spicy food.

    More likely that cultures in hotter climates cultivated the use of spices to cover-up the taste of food going off. In colder climates it’s easier to preserve food for longer periods of time.

  10. 10
    anthropic says:

    Could well be, though salting & smoking seem to be much more developed in cold climates.

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