The new study was published in the journal Current Biology and reveals that although the Arctic waters are teeming with plenty of fish, the penguins’ taste palettes are “comparatively crippled.”
The team of scientists from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, stated that penguins are missing three of the five taste buds.
According to the researchers, these flightless birds do not have the capacity of tasting anything that is sweet or bitter. The study also concluded that penguins’ taste buds cannot detect the taste of meat known as umami.
Professor Jianzhi ‘George’ Zhang, an expert in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, stated that penguins although they feed mostly on fish, they lack the umami receptor genes that are responsible for allowing animals to taste meat.
The findings are both puzzling and surprising and researchers say that they cannot explain this yet, although they have a few theories on this matter.
While studying the penguins’ genome responsible for the palette section, the scientists discovered that the birds have lost the capacity of discerning sweet, bitter and umami tastes more than 20 million years ago. The study reveals that every species of penguin lack this ability to discern certain flavors.
According to the investigative team, this lack of certain taste buds in penguins makes perfect sense. Previous studies have shown that a certain protein, known as Trpm5, responsible for transferring the sweet, bitter and umami flavors from the tongues to the brain, does not function properly in very cold temperatures.
Professor Zhang said that the previous studies provide hints on how the penguins lost their ability to taste certain flavors a while back due to the cold environment in which they live.
Also, because penguins swallow their fish whole, they miss the opportunity of tasting their food.
Professor Zhang concluded that the penguins’ behavior or swallowing their food whole, as well as the structure and function of their tongues, suggest that penguins don’t really need to the perception of taste.
Image Source: ibtimes