Identification of non-taster Japanese macaques for a specific bitter taste


Bitter taste perception evolved as a key detection mechanism against the ingestion of bioactive substances, and is mediated by TAS2R gene family members in vertebrates. The most widely known and best studied bitter substance is phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), which is recognized by TAS2R38 and has a molecular structure similar to that of glucosinolates contained in Brassica plants. The “non-taster” phenotypic polymorphism (i.e., not sensitive to PTC-containing foods) has been identified in many primates, including humans. Here, we report genetic and behavioral evidence for the existence of “non-taster” Japanese macaques, which originated from a restricted region of Japan. Comparison of the sequences of the TAS2R38 gene of 333 Japanese and 55 rhesus macaques suggested that this genotype appeared after the divergence of these two species, independently of the appearance of human and chimpanzee “non-tasters”. This finding might give a clue for elucidating the ecological, evolutionary, and neurobiological aspects of bitter taste perception of primates, as related to the plants that they sometimes use as foods in their habitats.

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We thank members of the Center for Human Evolution Modeling Research, Primate Research Institute, for help in sampling and behavioral tests, Dr Elizabeth Nakajima, Global COE program A06, for critical reading of the manuscript, and Mr Takashi Hayakawa, for valuable discussion. This work was financially supported by Global COE program A06 and by Grants-in-Aid from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology of Japan (2137009) and grants from the Takeda Foundation for Science and the Suzuken Memorial Foundation to H. I. This research was partly supported by the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (D-1007) of the Ministry of the Environment, Japan. The treatment of animals complied with the ethical standards in the guidelines laid down by the Primate Society of Japan and Primate Research Institute.

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Correspondence to Hiroo Imai.

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Suzuki, N., Sugawara, T., Matsui, A. et al. Identification of non-taster Japanese macaques for a specific bitter taste. Primates 51, 285–289 (2010) doi:10.1007/s10329-010-0209-3

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  • Bitter taste
  • Brassica plants
  • Japanese macaque