Dolphins can’t taste sweet….

… which is just as well, because cupcakes are hard to come by underwater.

"That was really lame. Hey, can you toss a pilchard my way?"

OK, it was pretty bad. But it’s not entirely ridiculous, as research published in PNAS and reported on the ABC News website shows that some carnivores have lost the ability to taste sweet, savoury and bitter flavours. The group behind the research have already shown how cats have lost their sweet taste genes (which does not explain why my cat likes to eat fairy floss!!), now they have expanded their work to other carnivores.

The genes examined, Tas1r2 and Tas1r3, are involved in the detecting sweet flavours. Twelve species of carnivores were tested, and sea lions, some otters, some seal and sea lion species, hyenas and dolphins were all found to have the Tas1r2 gene deactivated, meaning that they cannot detect sweet flavours. More surprising, however, was that dolphins also had other genes inactivated for savoury and bitter flavours too, in addition to the deactivation of their sweet genes. Raccoons and bears were found to have the Tas1r2 gene activated, meaning that they can taste sweet things, which is presumably useful as these animals are known to eat a range of things, not just meat.

To me, this makes sense. Why would these animals need receptors for tastes they are unlikely to encounter? I’ve tasted sardines – nothing sweet there! Personally, I don’t know what I’d do without being able to taste sweet, although it would probably mean that I’d save money by not having to buy chocolate.

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