Five canonical tastes, bitter, sweet, umami (amino acid), salty, and sour (acid), are detected by animals as diverse as fruit flies and humans, consistent with a near-universal drive to consume fundamental nutrients and to avoid toxins or other harmful compounds. Surprisingly, despite this strong conservation of basic taste qualities between vertebrates and invertebrates, the receptors and signaling mechanisms that mediate taste in each are highly divergent. The identification over the last two decades of receptors and other molecules that mediate taste has led to stunning advances in our understanding of the basic mechanisms of transduction and coding of information by the gustatory systems of vertebrates and invertebrates. In this Review, we discuss recent advances in taste research, mainly from the fly and mammalian systems, and we highlight principles that are common across species, despite stark differences in receptor types.
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