MadSci Network: Evolution

Re: Why are lemons sour?

Date: Tue Oct 7 06:01:14 2003
Posted By: Jeremy Cherfas, Staff, Public Awareness, IPGRI (International Plant Genetic Resources Institute)
Area of science: Evolution
ID: 1064227908.Ev

Dear Michael

I've delayed replying because you have posed a really interesting question 
that I have been puzzling over for.

I think there may be a third option to the two you suggest, or maybe it is 
part of your first answer, and that is that there are animals who do not 
recognize that the lemon is sour. In other words, they may not even detect 
the taste that we label as sourness.

The problem is, I can find no evidence in support of this, at least with 
regard to lemons.

However, birds do not seem to be affected by the capsaicin that makes 
chilli peppers hot, so there may be a precedent.

Right now I don't have time to pursue this further but the Monell Chemical Senses Center is where I 
would go if I did.

There's also the fact that most wild citrus fruits are pretty sour. 
Domestication seems to have added sweetness and maybe removed sourness, 
but something must have been eating all those wild citrus fruits.


p.s. If you are who I think you are, I'd be intrigued to know why you're 
thinking of lemons.

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