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Mol Biol Evol. 2003 May;20(5):805-14. Epub 2003 Apr 2.

Adaptive diversification of bitter taste receptor genes in Mammalian evolution.

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Laboratory of Molecular Evolution and Genome Diversity, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China.


The diversity and evolution of bitter taste perception in mammals is not well understood. Recent discoveries of bitter taste receptor (T2R) genes provide an opportunity for a genetic approach to this question. We here report the identification of 10 and 30 putative T2R genes from the draft human and mouse genome sequences, respectively, in addition to the 23 and 6 previously known T2R genes from the two species. A phylogenetic analysis of the T2R genes suggests that they can be classified into three main groups, which are designated A, B, and C. Interestingly, while the one-to-one gene orthology between the human and mouse is common to group B and C genes, group A genes show a pattern of species- or lineage-specific duplication. It is possible that group B and C genes are necessary for detecting bitter tastants common to both humans and mice, whereas group A genes are used for species-specific bitter tastants. The analysis also reveals that phylogenetically closely related T2R genes are close in their chromosomal locations, demonstrating tandem gene duplication as the primary source of new T2Rs. For closely related paralogous genes, a rate of nonsynonymous nucleotide substitution significantly higher than the rate of synonymous substitution was observed in the extracellular regions of T2Rs, which are presumably involved in tastant-binding. This suggests the role of positive selection in the diversification of newly duplicated T2R genes. Because many natural poisonous substances are bitter, we conjecture that the mammalian T2R genes are under diversifying selection for the ability to recognize a diverse array of poisons that the organisms may encounter in exploring new habitats and diets.

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