Synergism, Bifunctionality, and the Evolution of a Gradual Sensory Trade-off in Hummingbird Taste Receptors

Glenn Cockburn, Meng Ching Ko, Keren R. Sadanandan, Eliot T. Miller, Tomoya Nakagita, Amanda Monte, Sungbo Cho, Eugeni Roura, Yasuka Toda, Maude W. Baldwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sensory receptor evolution can imply trade-offs between ligands, but the extent to which such trade-offs occur and the underlying processes shaping their evolution is not well understood. For example, hummingbirds have repurposed their ancestral savory receptor (T1R1-T1R3) to detect sugars, but the impact of this sensory shift on amino acid perception is unclear. Here, we use functional and behavioral approaches to show that the hummingbird T1R1-T1R3 acts as a bifunctional receptor responsive to both sugars and amino acids. Our comparative analyses reveal substantial functional diversity across the hummingbird radiation and suggest an evolutionary timeline for T1R1-T1R3 retuning. Finally, we identify a novel form of synergism between sugars and amino acids in vertebrate taste receptors. This work uncovers an unexplored axis of sensory diversity, suggesting new ways in which nectar chemistry and pollinator preferences can coevolve.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbermsab367
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


  • ancestral reconstruction
  • functional profiling
  • hummingbird taste
  • molecular evolution
  • sensory receptor evolution
  • sensory trade-off


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