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Songbirds like it sweet: Songbird ancestors evolved a new way to taste sugar
July 12, 2021
Humans can easily identify sweet-tasting foods – and with pleasure. However, many carnivorous animals lack this ability, and whether birds, descendants of meat-eating dinosaurs, can taste sweet was previously unclear. An international team of researchers led by Yasuka Toda of Meiji University in Japan and Maude Baldwin of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology has now shown that songbirds, a group containing over 4,000 species, can sense sweetness regardless of their primary diets. The study highlights a specific event in the songbird ancestors that allowed their umami (savory) taste receptor to recognize sugar. This ability has been conserved in the songbird lineage, influencing the diet of nearly half of all birds living today.