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PeerJ. 2017 Aug 18;5:e3708. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3708. eCollection 2017.

Genomic evidence of bitter taste in snakes and phylogenetic analysis of bitter taste receptor genes in reptiles.

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College of Life Science, Qufu Normal University, Qufu, Shandong, China.
Ocean University of China, College of Marine Life Sciences, Qingdao, Shandong, China.
Shandong University, Marine college, Weihai, Shandong, China.


As nontraditional model organisms with extreme physiological and morphological phenotypes, snakes are believed to possess an inferior taste system. However, the bitter taste sensation is essential to distinguish the nutritious and poisonous food resources and the genomic evidence of bitter taste in snakes is largely scarce. To explore the genetic basis of the bitter taste of snakes and characterize the evolution of bitter taste receptor genes (Tas2rs) in reptiles, we identified Tas2r genes in 19 genomes (species) corresponding to three orders of non-avian reptiles. Our results indicated contractions of Tas2r gene repertoires in snakes, however dramatic gene expansions have occurred in lizards. Phylogenetic analysis of the Tas2rs with NJ and BI methods revealed that Tas2r genes of snake species formed two clades, whereas in lizards the Tas2r genes clustered into two monophyletic clades and four large clades. Evolutionary changes (birth and death) of intact Tas2r genes in reptiles were determined by reconciliation analysis. Additionally, the taste signaling pathway calcium homeostasis modulator 1 (Calhm1) gene of snakes was putatively functional, suggesting that snakes still possess bitter taste sensation. Furthermore, Phylogenetically Independent Contrasts (PIC) analyses reviewed a significant correlation between the number of Tas2r genes and the amount of potential toxins in reptilian diets, suggesting that insectivores such as some lizards may require more Tas2rs genes than omnivorous and carnivorous reptiles.


Bitter taste; Calhm1; Diet; Reptiles; Snake; Tas2r

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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