Scientists Investigate Bitter Taste Receptors in Domestic Cats in Efforts to Develop More Palatable Foods and Tastier Drugs for Finicky Felines

Cat taste receptors respond in a unique way to bitter compounds compared with human taste receptors, according to research published in the open-access journal BMC Neuroscience. The article is titled “A Functional Comparison of the Domestic Cat Bitter Receptors Tas2r38 and Tas2r43 with Their Human Orthologs.” The study represents the first glimpse into how domestic cats perceive bitterness in food at a molecular level, and could explain why cats are sometimes such picky eaters. The ability to detect bitter chemicals is thought to have evolved because of its utility in avoiding toxic compounds often found in plants. All cats, from pets to wild tigers, are carnivores that consume little plant material. Domestic cats, however, may still encounter bitter flavors in food and medicines. Domestic cats have a reputation of being rather unpredictable in their dietary choices. This could be explained by their perception of bitter, which differs from that of other mammals due to variations in their repertoire of bitter receptors. It is the goal of many pharmaceutical and food manufacturers to identify compounds that either block or alter bitter perception, to create a more palatable product. The teams at AFB International (a pet food flavor company) and Integral Molecular (a biotechnology company) studied the behavior of two different cat bitter taste receptors in cell-based experiments, investigating their responsiveness to bitter compounds, and comparing these to the human versions of these receptors. TAS2R38 is a bitter taste receptor in humans of which some people have “supertaster” variants that give them an extreme sensitivity to bitter compounds, explaining some people's strong aversions to broccoli and brussels sprouts.
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