Five basic taste modalities, sour, sweet, bitter, salt and umami, can be distinguished by humans and are fundamental for physical and ecological adaptations in mammals. Molecular genetic studies of the receptor genes for these tastes have been conducted in terrestrial mammals; however, little is known about the evolution and adaptation of these genes in marine mammals.
Here, all five basic taste modalities, sour, sweet, bitter, salt and umami, were investigated in cetaceans. The sequence characteristics and evolutionary analyses of taste receptor genes suggested that nearly all cetaceans may have lost all taste modalities except for that of salt.
This is the first study to comprehensively examine the five basic taste modalities in cetaceans with extensive taxa sampling. Our results suggest that cetaceans have lost four of the basic taste modalities including sour, sweet, umami, and most of the ability to sense bitter tastes. The integrity of the candidate salt taste receptor genes in all the cetaceans examined may be because of their function in Na+ reabsorption, which is key to osmoregulation and aquatic adaptation.
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