Plant Diet Selects for Better Bitter Tasters

Meat holds few surprises in regards to toxins, not so for plants. The diversity of toxins puts selective pressure on animals and this study correlates the number of copies of bitter taste receptor gene with amount of plant in the diet.

Diet Shapes the Evolution of the Vertebrate Bitter Taste Receptor Gene Repertoire

Vertebrate Tas2r taste receptors bind to bitter compounds, which are typically poisonous, to elicit bitter sensation to prevent the ingestion of toxins. Previous studies noted a marked variation in the number of Tas2r genes among species, but the underlying cause is unclear. To address this question, we compile the Tas2r gene repertoires from 41 mammals, 4 birds, 2 reptiles, 1 amphibian, and 6 fishes. The number of intact Tas2r genes varies from 0 in the bottlenose dolphin to 51 in the Western clawed frog, with numerous expansions and contractions of the gene family throughout vertebrates, especially among tetrapods. The Tas2r gene number in a species correlates with the fraction of plants in its diet. Because plant tissues contain more toxic compounds than animal tissues do, our observation supports the hypothesis that dietary toxins are a major selective force shaping the diversity of the Tas2r repertoire.


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