Journal Article

Evolution of a Bitter Taste Receptor Gene Cluster in a New World Sparrow

Jamie K. Davis, Josh J. Lowman, Pamela J. Thomas, Boudewijn F. H. ten Hallers, Maxim Koriabine, Lynn Y. Huynh, Donna L. Maney, Pieter J. de Jong, Christa L. Martin and James W. Thomas

in Genome Biology and Evolution

Published on behalf of Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 2, issue , pages 358-370
Published in print January 2010 |
Published online May 2010 | e-ISSN: 1759-6653 | DOI:

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  • Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Genetics and Genomics


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Bitter taste perception likely evolved as a protective mechanism against the ingestion of harmful compounds in food. The evolution of the taste receptor type 2 (TAS2R) gene family, which encodes the chemoreceptors that are directly responsible for the detection of bitter compounds, has therefore been of considerable interest. Though TAS2R repertoires have been characterized for a number of species, to date the complement of TAS2Rs from just one bird, the chicken, which had a notably small number of TAS2Rs, has been established. Here, we used targeted mapping and genomic sequencing in the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) and sample sequencing in other closely related birds to reconstruct the history of a TAS2R gene cluster physically linked to the break points of an evolutionary chromosomal rearrangement. In the white-throated sparrow, this TAS2R cluster encodes up to 18 functional bitter taste receptors and likely underwent a large expansion that predates and/or coincides with the radiation of the Emberizinae subfamily into the New World. In addition to signatures of gene birth-and-death evolution within this cluster, estimates of Ka/Ks for the songbird TAS2Rs were similar to those previously observed in mammals, including humans. Finally, comparison of the complete genomic sequence of the cluster from two common haplotypes in the white-throated sparrow revealed a number of nonsynonymous variants and differences in functional gene content within this species. These results suggest that interspecies and intraspecies genetic variability does exist in avian TAS2Rs and that these differences could contribute to variation in bitter taste perception in birds.

Keywords: bitter taste receptors; molecular evolution; inversion; duplication

Journal Article.  8304 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Bioinformatics and Computational Biology ; Evolutionary Biology ; Genetics and Genomics

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