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Molecular Biology and Evolution Publication

Publication Date: 29 January, 2014

 

Smelling in the dark: Fruit eating drives the evolution of  olfaction in bats.

MBE Advance Access published January 16, 2014

Co-author: Professor Emma C. Teeling, UCD School of Biology and  Environmental Science and UCD Earth Institute

How do we smell?’ The answer lies in the function of the roughly 1,000 mammalian genes that encode the olfactory receptors (OR) inside our nose. Although this gene superfamily constitutes 3-6% of mammalian genes, we still do not fully understand what odorants bind to which receptors, and how this complex process translates into interpreting a particular smell. Little is known about how olfactory receptors function in mammals, or how this enormous gene family has evolved in response to different evolutionary challenges. What is known is that animals that live in different ecological environments, e.g. whales under water, bats that exploit aerial niches and terrestrial mammals such as cows, have evolved different suites of olfactory receptors. This suggests that the ability to smell different odors is important for survival in different environments. However, as these lifestyles evolved so long ago it is difficult to tell what forces have shaped the repertoire of olfactory receptors. Has the evolution of other sensory systems, changes in diet, or perhaps the random accumulation of changes through time in divergent groups driven the evolution of the olfaction in mammals?

Read the publication in full here.