Tags: penguins | taste | fish

Penguins Taste Fish? Apparently Not – Maybe That's Why They Swallow Their Seafood Whole

By    |   Tuesday, 17 February 2015 12:12 PM

Penguins can't taste the fish they're so fond of eating, scientists recently discovered.

According to research published Monday in the journal Current Biology, it appears all penguin species lost three of the five basic taste genes common to humans long ago.

"Based on genetic data, penguins are believed to have sour and salty tastes, but have lost sweet, umami [savory], and bitter tastes," lead researcher Prof Jianzhi Zhang, of the University of Michigan and Wuhan University, China, told the BBC.

The lack of genes for sweet tastes is common to many other types of birds, however the lack of umami and bitter genes in penguins was a surprise to scientists studying the animals' DNA.

After making the discovery, the researchers proposed a few hypotheses to explain the phenomena.

"Their behavior of swallowing food whole, and their tongue structure and function, suggest that penguins need no taste perception," said Zhang.

"Although it is unclear whether these traits are a cause or a consequence of their major taste loss."

Additionally, the receptors found on the tongue that sense sweet, umami, and bitter are known to function more poorly the colder it gets. That means that while hunting for fish down in Antarctica, penguins may have gradually lost those three tongue-to-brain channels for lack of use.

Also in question after the DNA sequencing is the penguin's sense of saltiness.

"They did find a channel that's necessary for salt taste … but that doesn't mean a whole lot because that channel is required for your kidneys to work," said David Yarmolinsky, a taste researcher at Columbia University, The Verge reported.

"If they didn't have that, they'd be dead penguins whether or not they can taste. So just because they have it in their genome doesn't mean they have it on their tongue."

"You really have to take the penguin and see how it reacts when you give it something sour to eat. That's really the test to see what they can or cannot taste," he added.

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Penguins can't taste the fish they're so fond of eating, scientists recently discovered.
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Tuesday, 17 February 2015 12:12 PM
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