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Why are cats so obsessed with tuna? Scientists finally have the answer

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Canned tuna is a delicacy for many cats, even the picky ones. A team of scientists from the US, UK and Germany have finally found out why this is so. According to their research, it is related to the umami taste, which gives food a spicy or meaty taste.

Cats, like humans, have taste receptors on their tongues that detect umami – one of the basic tastes, along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami is what gives food its spicy or meaty flavor. That’s why cats, as carnivores, love it. However, unlike our umami taste receptors, the cat’s receptors bind to two chemicals that are found in high amounts, especially in tuna. These substances enhance the umami experience in cats, making them very fond of this fishy delicacy. Conclusions on this subject were published in August in the journal “Chemical Sense”.

Cats do not feel sweet and bitter

Previous research on cats has shown that their taste preferences differ significantly from those of humans. It is well known, for example, that cats have an ambivalent attitude towards sugar – they neither like it nor avoid it – because they cannot taste it. Their gene responsible for the sweet taste receptor does not work properly. Experts hypothesize that they have lost the ability to taste carbohydrates and sweeteners because these macronutrients are no longer necessary for their survival.

Cats also have fewer bitter taste receptors than humans. This is probably because they are not as useful to them as they are to herbivores or omnivores who use the bitterness to recognize plants that may be toxic.

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– Since we discovered that cats lack a functional sweet taste receptor, we wondered what other flavor they would respond to – said Scott McGrane, the lead author of the study and an expert from the British Waltham Petcare Science Institute, in an interview with Live Science.

Some cats cannot live without tunaAdobe Stock

The taste of umami in cats

McGrane and colleagues found that cats have an umami-related gene, Tas1r1, in their taste buds. The researchers did this by cutting out the tongue of a six-year-old male cat that had been euthanized for other reasons to look at the genes on the tongue responsible for the taste. In humans, two genes – TAs1r1 and Tas1r3 – work together to sense umami. Scientists knew that cats had active TAs1r3, but they weren’t sure about Tas1r1. However, research has shown that cats have both genes needed to sense umami taste. Moreover, in cats, umami receptors bind strongly to l-histidine (an amino acid) and inosinic acid.

“Tuna contains large amounts of l-histidine, an essential amino acid for cats that is also a powerful umami flavor enhancer,” McGrane said. – The content of l-histidine in tuna is much higher than in other species of fish or meat – he added. This is why cats love eating tuna so much.

The results of the study were confirmed by examining a group of 25 cats. The team placed bowls of water containing varying amounts of substances, as well as plain water, in front of the animals. Cats showed a strong preference for those combinations that contained large amounts of l-histidine and inosinic acid. Scientists believe that this will make it possible to develop tastier cat food in the future.

livescience.com, tvnmeteo.pl

Main photo source: Adobe Stock

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