July 25, 2005
Evolution of Taste Receptor May Have Shaped Human Sensitivity to Toxic Compounds
Researchers have found new evidence suggesting that the ability to taste bitter compounds has been strongly advantageous in human evolution.
Animals rely on chemical perception, including the senses of taste and smell, for protection against the harmful compounds found in nature. It is widely believed that behavioral and dietary choices may have reduced the importance of such chemical perception in higher primates, and particularly in humans.
The researchers went on to show experimentally that such variants of the receptor, when expressed in individual cells, conferred an increased sensitivity toward several harmful compounds found in nature.
The work strongly supports a pivotal role for bitter-taste perception in toxin avoidance in humans, an attribute that could have come into particular play during periods of expansion into new environments. More broadly, the work contributes to the debate on the mechanisms governing the evolution of chemical sensory perception and on the role of diet as a selective force in human evolution.
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