PerspectiveEvolution

Sensing nectar's sweetness

Science  22 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6199, pp. 878-879
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259175

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Summary

In a brief comment on the sense of taste, Charles Darwin noted that “Real taste [in] the mouth, in my theory must be acquired by certain foods being habitual—[and] hence become hereditary” (1). This view, that taste perception and diet form a coordinated evolutionarily guided system, has received renewed support from recent behavioral, physiological, and molecular studies of comparative taste. On page 929 of this issue, Baldwin et al. (2) describe a striking example of this coordination in sweet nectar–eating hummingbirds—the repurposing of an amino acid taste receptor to respond to sugars and other sweeteners, permitting these birds to occupy a whole new avian niche.