Do penguins have poor taste? Of course, we aren’t questioning their stylish black and white attire or their choice in partners. When it comes to food, though, it turns out they can’t taste many flavours.

Analysis of the genomes of Adelie and emperor penguins initially revealed a lack of genes associated with certain tastes. Scientists from the University of Michigan explored further, and found that these two species aren’t alone: all penguin species appear to lack the genes that allow them to detect sweet, bitter, or pleasant savoury tastes.

Penguins swallow food whole, so perhaps their poor taste is not really an issue. “Their behaviour of swallowing food whole, and their tongue structure and function, suggest that penguins need no taste perception, although it is unclear whether these traits are a cause or a consequence of their major taste loss,” said author Jianzhi Zhang.

What this means is that penguins are left with only two tastes to savour when it comes to feeding: the delightful combination of salty and sour.

 

 

The above is based on materials provided by Cell Press

Huabin Zhao, Jianwen Li, Jianzhi Zhang. (2015). Molecular evidence for the loss of three basic tastes in penguins. Current Biology, 25 (4): R141 DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2015.01.026

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