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Avoiding poisons: A matter of bitter taste

Date:
November 18, 2013
Source:
Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press)
Summary:
Researchers tested the hypothesis that herbivores -- and their plant diets -- have evolved to have greater number of Tas2r bitter taste receptor genes in their genomes than omnivores or carnivores. Their analyses supported the hypothesis, showing vertebrates can also be classified as herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores based on their Tas2r genetic profile.

In most animals, taste has evolved to avoid all things bitter -- a key to survival -- to avoid eating something that could be poisonous via taste receptors, known as Tas2r, that quickly spring into action and elicit the bitter sensation.

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Published recently in the online early edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution, authors Zhang, et. al., tested the hypothesis that herbivores -- and their plant diets -- have evolved to have greater number of Tas2r bitter taste receptor genes in their genomes than omnivores or carnivores. They identified Tas2r genes in more than 54 vertebrate species including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes, and grouped them into functional and non-functional genes. They also constructed evolutionary trees and estimated the loss and birth of Tas2r genes. Finally, they correlated the Tas2r gene repertoire of the species with their diets.

Their analyses supported the hypothesis, showing vertebrates can also be classified as herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores based on their Tas2r genetic profile. The Tas2r gene number in a species also is correlated with the fraction of plants in its diet. They conclude that because plant tissues contain more toxic compounds than animal tissues do, dietary toxins are a major selective force shaping the diversity of the Tas2r genetic repertoire.


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The above story is based on materials provided by Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. Li, J. Zhang. Diet shapes the evolution of the vertebrate bitter taste receptor gene repertoire. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2013; DOI: 10.1093/molbev/mst219

Cite This Page:

Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press). "Avoiding poisons: A matter of bitter taste." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131118160043.htm>.
Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press). (2013, November 18). Avoiding poisons: A matter of bitter taste. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131118160043.htm
Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press). "Avoiding poisons: A matter of bitter taste." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131118160043.htm (accessed February 26, 2015).

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