Domestic cats may be able to taste bitterness by means of several bitter taste receptors, a new research suggests.
In the paper – published October 21 in the journal PLOS ONE – the researchers wrote that there are about seven (or more) different types of functional bitter taste receptors in cats, compared with humans who have about twenty-five. Taste receptors – proteins which set off a signal once they encounter a substance – are essential to experience taste.
Scientists were surprised to find bitter taste receptors in cats, since they are carnivorous animals, and the ability to perceive bitterness has long been associated with plant consumption.
Gary Beauchamp, director and president of the Monell Chemical Senses Center at the University City Science Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said that scientists have yet to understand what is the purpose of bitter taste receptors in cats, functionally speaking.
Most animals have the ability to taste bitterness to prevent them from eating plants that are poisonous, or so scientists thought. Cats are not very keen on eating plants, so it means that the functional bitter taste receptors in felines may have a different purpose.
According to Dr. Beauchamp, it is possible that cats may eat other things like spiders, or invertebrates that could taste bitter to them, or perhaps the taste receptors have internal functions and work as a warning or defence system. The receptors were found in the cats’ upper respiratory tracts, noses, and guts, Dr. Beauchamp said.
Taste is experienced in a multi-sensory way in humans. Dr. Beauchamp stated that:
“When the general public uses the word ‘taste’ it’s referring to the sensory experience of anything you put in your mouth, chew up and swallow. But that is really made up of three different senses.”
There is the sense of taste, the sense of smell, and a third sense which produces an irritant experience (for instance when we consume hot peppers and we feel a burning sensation). All of these senses come together and are perceived as a single thing.
We could say that cats are similar to us humans in that they dislike bitterness, but they seem to dislike sweetness as well– which to us sounds inconceivable.
Taste can warn animals when something is poisonous or dangerous, but is may also help them get the necessary nutrients. For instance our body is able to identify sugars by sensing sweetness.
A cat’s diet is different from ours, and scientists are now trying to figure out how the diet of cats matches their taste experience.
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