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Evolution of sweet taste perception in hummingbirds by transformation of the ancestral umami receptor

Baldwin, Maude W.; Toda, Yasuka; Nakagita, Tomoya; O'Connell, Mary J.; Klasing, Kirk C.; Misaka, Takumi; Edwards, Scott V.; Liberles, Stephen D.


Maude W. Baldwin

Yasuka Toda

Tomoya Nakagita

Kirk C. Klasing

Takumi Misaka

Scott V. Edwards

Stephen D. Liberles


Sensory systems define an animal's capacity for perception and can evolve to promote survival in new environmental niches. We have uncovered a noncanonical mechanism for sweet taste perception that evolved in hummingbirds since their divergence from insectivorous swifts, their closest relatives. We observed the widespread absence in birds of an essential subunit (T1R2) of the only known vertebrate sweet receptor, raising questions about how specialized nectar feeders such as hummingbirds sense sugars. Receptor expression studies revealed that the ancestral umami receptor (the T1R1-T1R3 heterodimer) was repurposed in hummingbirds to function as a carbohydrate receptor. Furthermore, the molecular recognition properties of T1R1-T1R3 guided taste behavior in captive and wild hummingbirds. We propose that changing taste receptor function enabled hummingbirds to perceive and use nectar, facilitating the massive radiation of hummingbird species.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 1, 2014
Online Publication Date Aug 22, 2014
Publication Date Aug 22, 2014
Deposit Date Sep 28, 2020
Journal Science
Print ISSN 0036-8075
Electronic ISSN 1095-9203
Publisher American Association for the Advancement of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 345
Issue 6199
Pages 929-933
Public URL
Publisher URL