Links for Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)

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By Veronique Greenwood Human beings maintain the polite fiction that we’re not constantly smelling one another. Despite our efforts to the contrary, we all have our own odors, pleasant and less so, and if we are like other land mammals, our particular perfume might mean something to our fellow humans. Some of these, like the reek of someone who hasn’t bathed all month, or the distinctive whiff of a toddler who is pretending they didn’t just fill their diaper, are self-explanatory. But scientists who study human olfaction, or your sense of smell, wonder if the molecules wafting off our skin may be registering at some subconscious level in the noses and brains of people around us. Are they bearing messages that we use in decisions without realizing it? Might they even be shaping whom we do and don’t like to spend time around? Indeed, in a small study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, researchers investigating pairs of friends whose friendship “clicked” from the beginning found intriguing evidence that each person’s body odor was closer to their friend’s than expected by chance. And when the researchers got pairs of strangers to play a game together, their body odors predicted whether they felt they had a good connection. There are many factors that shape whom people become friends with, including how, when or where we meet a new person. But perhaps one thing we pick up on, the researchers suggest, is how they smell. Scientists who study friendship have found that friends have more in common than strangers — not just things like age and hobbies, but also genetics, patterns of brain activity and appearance. Inbal Ravreby, a graduate student in the lab of Noam Sobel, an olfaction researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, was curious whether particularly swift friendships, the kind that seem to form in an instant, had an olfactory component — whether people might be picking up on similarities in their smells. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 28382 - Posted: 06.25.2022

Michael Marshall Researchers are finally making headway in understanding how the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus causes loss of smell. And a multitude of potential treatments to tackle the condition are undergoing clinical trials, including steroids and blood plasma. Once a tell-tale sign of COVID-19, smell disruption is becoming less common as the virus evolves. “Our inboxes are not as flooded as they used to be,” says Valentina Parma, a psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who helped field desperate inquiries from patients throughout the first two years of the pandemic. A study published last month1 surveyed 616,318 people in the United States who have had COVID-19. It found that, compared with those who had been infected with the original virus, people who had contracted the Alpha variant — the first variant of concern to arise — were 50% as likely to have chemosensory disruption. This probability fell to 44% for the later Delta variant, and to 17% for the latest variant, Omicron. But the news is not all good: a significant portion of people infected early in the pandemic still experience chemosensory effects. A 2021 study2 followed 100 people who had had mild cases of COVID-19 and 100 people who repeatedly tested negative. More than a year after their infections, 46% of those who had had COVID-19 still had smell problems; by contrast, just 10% of the control group had developed some smell loss, but for other reasons. Furthermore, 7% of those who had been infected still had total smell loss, or ‘anosmia’, at the end of the year. Given that more than 500 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, tens of millions of people probably have lingering smell problems. For these people, help can’t come soon enough. Simple activities such as tasting food or smelling flowers are now “really emotionally distressing”, Parma says. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28374 - Posted: 06.15.2022

By Tina Hesman Saey Dogs are as reliable as laboratory tests for detecting COVID-19 cases, and may be even better than PCR tests for identifying infected people who don’t have symptoms. A bonus: The canines are cuter and less invasive than a swab up the nose. In a study involving sweat samples from 335 people, trained dogs sniffed out 97 percent of the coronavirus cases that had been identified by PCR tests, researchers report June 1 in PLOS One. And the dogs found all 31 COVID-19 cases among 192 people who didn’t have symptoms. These findings are evidence that dogs could be effective for mass screening efforts at places such as airports or concerts and may provide friendly alternatives for testing people who balk at nasal swabs, says Dominique Grandjean, a veterinarian at the National School of Veterinary Medicine of Alfort in Maisons-Alfort, France. “The dog doesn’t lie,” but there are many ways PCR tests can go wrong, Grandjean says. The canines’ noses also identified more COVID-19 cases than did antigen tests (SN: 12/17/21), similar to many at-home tests, but sometimes mistook another respiratory virus for the coronavirus, Grandjean and colleagues found. What’s more, anecdotal evidence suggests the dogs can pick up asymptomatic cases as much as 48 hours before people test positive by PCR, he says. In the study, dogs from French fire stations and from the Ministry of the Interior of the United Arab Emirates were trained in coronavirus detection by rewarding them with toys — usually tennis balls. “It’s playtime for them,” Grandjean says. It takes about three to six weeks, depending on the dog’s experience with odor detection, to train a dog to pick out COVID-19 cases from sweat samples. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28349 - Posted: 06.04.2022

Dustin Jones Researchers from Sweden and the United Kingdom teamed up to sniff out the answer to a question practically every person has pondered at one time or another: what is the best smell out there? They found that most people, despite coming from different cultures and backgrounds, find vanilla to be the most pleasant smell on the planet more often than not. Sour, stinky feet? Not so much. The collaborative study between Sweden's Karolinska Institutet and the University of Oxford found that people share similar preferences when it comes to smell, regardless of cultural background. And according to the results, vanilla is the most pleasing smell around, followed by ethyl butyrate, which smells like peaches. Artin Arshamian, researcher at Karolinska and one of the study's authors, said humans may have similar olfactory preferences because it helped early humans survive. Which may very well explain why stinky feet came in dead last as far as appealing odors are concerned. According to the study, the pleasantness of a smell can be attributed to the structure of an edible item's odor molecule 41% of the time. Simply put, humans likely enjoy many of the same smells, more often than not, because of a deep-rooted sense that an item is safe to eat. Sponsor Message "We wanted to examine if people around the world have the same smell perception and like the same types of [odor], or whether this is something that is culturally learned," Arshamian said. "Traditionally it has been seen as cultural, but we can show that culture has very little to do with it." © 2022 npr

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28268 - Posted: 04.06.2022

By Pam Belluck Covid-19 may cause greater loss of gray matter and tissue damage in the brain than naturally occurs in people who have not been infected with the virus, a large new study found. The study, published Monday in the journal Nature, is believed to be the first involving people who underwent brain scans both before they contracted Covid and months after. Neurological experts who were not involved in the research said it was valuable and unique, but they cautioned that the implications of the changes were unclear and did not necessarily suggest that people might have lasting damage or that the changes might profoundly affect thinking, memory or other functions. The study, involving people aged 51 to 81, found shrinkage and tissue damage primarily in brain areas related to sense of smell; some of those areas are also involved in other brain functions, the researchers said. “To me, this is pretty convincing evidence that something changes in brains of this overall group of people with Covid,” said Dr. Serena Spudich, chief of neurological infections and global neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. But, she cautioned: “To make a conclusion that this has some long-term clinical implications for the patients I think is a stretch. We don’t want to scare the public and have them think, ‘Oh, this is proof that everyone’s going to have brain damage and not be able to function.’” The study involved 785 participants in UK Biobank, a repository of medical and other data from about half a million people in Britain. The participants each underwent two brain scans roughly three years apart, plus some basic cognitive testing. In between their two scans, 401 participants tested positive for the coronavirus, all infected between March 2020 and April 2021. The other 384 participants formed a control group because they had not been infected with the coronavirus and had similar characteristics to the infected patients in areas like age, sex, medical history and socioeconomic status. With normal aging, people lose a tiny fraction of gray matter each year. For example, in regions related to memory, the typical annual loss is between 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent, the researchers said. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28237 - Posted: 03.11.2022

By Roni Caryn Rabin Few of Covid-19’s peculiarities have piqued as much interest as anosmia, the abrupt loss of smell that has become a well-known hallmark of the disease. Covid patients lose this sense even without a stuffy nose; the loss can make food taste like cardboard and coffee smell noxious, occasionally persisting after other symptoms have resolved. Scientists are now beginning to unravel the biological mechanisms, which have been something of a mystery: The neurons that detect odors lack the receptors that the coronavirus uses to enter cells, prompting a long debate about whether they can be infected at all. Insights gleaned from new research could shed new light on how the coronavirus might affect other types of brain cells, leading to conditions like “brain fog,” and possibly help explain the biological mechanisms behind long Covid — symptoms that linger for weeks or months after the initial infection. The new work, along with earlier studies, settles the debate over whether the coronavirus infects the nerve cells that detect odors: It does not. But the virus does attack other supporting cells that line the nasal cavity, the researchers found. The infected cells shed virus and die, while immune cells flood the region to fight the virus. The subsequent inflammation wreaks havoc on smell receptors, proteins on the surface of the nerve cells in the nose that detect and transmit information about odors. The process alters the sophisticated organization of genes in those neurons, essentially short-circuiting them, the researchers reported. Their paper significantly advances the understanding of how cells critical to the sense of smell are affected by the virus, despite the fact that they are not directly infected, said Dr. Sandeep Robert Datta, an associate professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28232 - Posted: 03.05.2022

ByTess Joosse Bite into a lemon and you’ll likely experience a clashing rush of sensations: crushing sharpness, mouth-watering tanginess, and pleasant brightness. But despite its assertiveness—and its role as one of the five main taste profiles (along with sweet, salty, savory, and bitter)—scientists don’t know much about how our acidic taste evolved. Enter Rob Dunn. The North Carolina State University ecologist and his collaborators have spent years scanning the scientific literature in search of an answer. In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team reports some clues. Science chatted with Dunn about how, and why, humans like to pucker up. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Rob Dunn Ecologist Rob DunnAmanda Ward Q: Do other animals like sour foods? A: With almost all the other tastes, species have lost them through evolution. Dolphins appear to have no taste receptors other than salty, and cats don’t have sweet taste receptors. That’s what we expected to see with sour. What we see instead is all the species that have been tested [about 60 so far] are able to detect acidity in their food. Of those animals, pigs and primates seem to really like acidic foods. For example, wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are really attracted to fermented corn, and gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) have shown a preference for acidic fruits in the ginger family. Q: Sweet taste gives us a reward for energy, and bitter alerts us to potential poisons. Why might we have evolved a taste for sour? A: Sour taste was likely present in ancient fish—they’re the earliest vertebrate animals that we know can sense sour. The origin in fish was likely not to taste food with their mouths, but to sense acidity in the ocean—basically fish “tasting” with the outside of their body. Variations in dissolved carbon dioxide can create acidity gradients in the water, which can be dangerous for fish. Being able to sense acidity would have been important. © 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28198 - Posted: 02.12.2022

John Crimaldi Brian H. Smith Elizabeth Hong Nathan Urban A dog raises its nose in the air before chasing after a scent. A mosquito zigzags back and forth before it lands on your arm for its next meal. What these behaviors have in common is that they help these animals “see” their world through their noses. While humans primarily use their vision to navigate their environment, the vast majority of organisms on Earth communicate and experience the world through olfaction – their sense of smell. We are members of Odor2Action, an international network of over 50 scientists and students using olfaction to study brain function in animals. Our goal is to understand a fundamental question in neuroscience: How do animal brains translate information from their environments to changes in their behaviors? Here, we trace the interconnections between smells and behaviors – looking at how behavior influences odor detection, how the brain processes sensory information from smells and how this information triggers new behaviors. When the odor of a flower is released into the air, it takes the shape of a wind-borne cloud of molecules called a plume. It encounters physical obstacles and temperature differences as it flows through space. These interactions create turbulence that splits the odor plume into thin threads that spread out as the scent moves away from its source. These filaments eventually reach an animal’s nose or an insect’s antenna. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28173 - Posted: 01.26.2022

Chloe Tenn Humans have a sugar sense. Animals and humans prefer sugar over artificial sweeteners in experiments, and that could be because a specific gut sensor cell triggers one of two separate neural pathways depending on which it detects, researchers suggest in a January 13 study in Nature Neuroscience. “It has been known for decades that animals prefer sugar to non-caloric sweeteners and that this preference relies on feedback from the gut,” Lisa Beutler, a Northwestern University endocrinologist who researches the connection between the gut and brain and was not affiliated with the new work, writes in an email to The Scientist. “This study is among the first to provide insight at the molecular level into how the gut knows the difference between sugar and non-caloric sweeteners, and how this drives preference.” The study builds on previous research from the lab of Duke University gut-brain neuroscientist Diego Bohórquez. In 2015, Bohórquez established that endocrine cells, which were previously thought to only communicate with the nervous system indirectly through hormone secretion, can in fact have direct contact with neurons, evidenced by a video. Then, in 2018, the Bohórquez Lab found that the gut has similar cells to those that allow for taste on the tongue and smell in the nose, and that these sensors also have direct contact with neurons. “If they are connected to neurons, they must be connected to the brain,” Bohórquez tells The Scientist. “When we ingest sugar, it stimulates cells in the gut, and these cells release glutamate and activate the vagus nerve,” Bohórquez explains of his prior research. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that plays a regulatory role in internal organ functions such as digestion. His team observed that these gut sensor cells, which the team dubbed “neuropods,” transmit the chemosensory information mere milliseconds after detecting sugar. © 1986–2022 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment; Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28170 - Posted: 01.26.2022

By Erin Garcia de Jesús For many people, one of the fastest tip-offs that they have COVID-19 is the loss of taste or smell. Now researchers have pinpointed some genetic variants in people that may make it more likely that the coronavirus might rob them of these senses. A study of nearly 70,000 adults with COVID-19 found that individuals with certain genetic tweaks on chromosome 4 were 11 percent more likely to lose the ability to smell or taste than people without the changes, researchers report January 17 in Nature Genetics. The data come from people who’d had their DNA analyzed by genetic testing company 23andMe and self-reported a case of COVID-19. Two genes, UGT2A1 and UGT2A2, that help people smell reside in the region of chromosome 4 linked to sensory loss during infection, epidemiologist Janie Shelton of 23andMe and colleagues found. Both genes make enzymes that metabolize substances called odorants, which produce distinctive smells. Sign up for e-mail updates on the latest coronavirus news and research Studies suggest that loss of smell, a hallmark symptom of COVID-19, stems from infections taking hold in smell-supporting cells called sustentacular cells (SN: 6/12/20). It’s possible that the genetic variants near UGT2A1 and UGT2A2 could affect how the two genes are turned on or off to somehow mess with smell during an infection, Shelton says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28160 - Posted: 01.19.2022

By Winston Choi-Schagrin SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. — Chuck McGinley, a chemical engineer, stepped out of his car, eyed the smokestack of an animal processing plant rising above the treetops, and inhaled deeply. At first he smelled nothing except the faint, sweet fragrance of the nearby trees. Suddenly, the wind picked up. “We have an oh-my-God smell!” Mr. McGinley exclaimed. Immediately one of his colleagues pressed a Nasal Ranger to his nose. The 14-inch-long smell-measuring device, which looks like a cross between a radar gun and a bugle, is one of Mr. McGinley’s most significant inventions. Using terms from one of Mr. McGinley’s other standard tools, an odor wheel, a chart akin to an artist’s color wheel that he has been fine-tuning for decades, the team described the stink. “Sour,” one person said. “Decay, with possibly some petroleum,” said another. Then, as quickly as it had arrived, the smell disappeared. “The wind decided it was going to gift us only a short sniff,” Mr. McGinley said. “To tease us.” Intuitively, humans know to avoid bad smells. Yet for a half-century, Mr. McGinley, 76, has returned again and again to society’s stinkiest sites, places very much like this one, in order to measure, describe and demystify smell. Climate Fwd There’s an ongoing crisis — and tons of news. Our newsletter keeps you up to date. Get it sent to your inbox. From his unconventional lab in a Minnesota suburb (it actually feels more like a ski lodge) Mr. McGinley and his son Mike have established an outsize influence over the measurement and understanding of odor. They have equipped scientists around the world with tools the elder Mr. McGinley invented, advised governments on odor regulations and empowered communities near smelly places to find a vocabulary for their complaints and a way to measure what their noses are telling them. In many ways, the growing demand for Mr. McGinley’s services and instruments signals society’s heightened awareness of the power of odor and its potential to make people physically ill or diminish their quality of life. His inventions have taken on a powerful role in a movement to recognize odor as a pollutant, not merely an annoyance, worthy of closer study and perhaps tighter regulation. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28153 - Posted: 01.15.2022

By Judith Graham The reports from coronavirus patients are disconcerting. Only a few hours before, they were enjoying a cup of pungent coffee or the fragrance of flowers in a garden. Then, as if a switch had been flipped, those smells disappeared. F Young and old alike are affected — more than 80 to 90 percent of those diagnosed with the virus, according to some estimates. While most people recover in a few months, 16 percent take half a year or longer to do so, research has found. According to new estimates, up to 1.6 million Americans have chronic smell problems because of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Seniors are especially vulnerable, experts say. “We know that many older adults have a compromised sense of smell to begin with. Add to that the insult of covid, and it made these problems worse,” said Jayant Pinto, a professor of surgery and a specialist in sinus and nasal diseases at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Advertisement Recent data highlights the interaction between covid-19, advanced age and loss of smell. When Italian researchers evaluated 101 patients who had been hospitalized for mild to moderate covid-19, 50 showed objective signs of smell impairment six months later. Those 65 or older were nearly twice as likely to be impaired; those 75 or older were more than 2½ times as likely. Most people aren’t aware of the extent to which smell can be diminished in later life. More than half of 65-to-80-year-olds have some degree of smell loss, or olfactory dysfunction, as it’s known in the scientific literature. That rises to as high as 80 percent for those even older. People affected often report concerns about safety, less enjoyment eating and an impaired quality of life. But because the ability to detect, identify and discriminate among odors declines gradually, most older adults — up to 75 percent of those with some degree of smell loss — don’t realize they’re affected.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28151 - Posted: 01.12.2022

Stephen Wooding The sweetness of sugar is one of life’s great pleasures. People’s love for sweet is so visceral, food companies lure consumers to their products by adding sugar to almost everything they make: yogurt, ketchup, fruit snacks, breakfast cereals and even supposed health foods like granola bars. Schoolchildren learn as early as kindergarten that sweet treats belong in the smallest tip of the food pyramid, and adults learn from the media about sugar’s role in unwanted weight gain. It’s hard to imagine a greater disconnect between a powerful attraction to something and a rational disdain for it. How did people end up in this predicament? I’m an anthropologist who studies the evolution of taste perception. I believe insights into our species’ evolutionary history can provide important clues about why it’s so hard to say no to sweet. The basic activities of day-to-day life, such as raising the young, finding shelter and securing enough food, all required energy in the form of calories. Individuals more proficient at garnering calories tended to be more successful at all these tasks. They survived longer and had more surviving children – they had greater fitness, in evolutionary terms. One contributor to success was how good they were at foraging. Being able to detect sweet things – sugars – could give someone a big leg up. In nature, sweetness signals the presence of sugars, an excellent source of calories. So foragers able to perceive sweetness could detect whether sugar was present in potential foods, especially plants, and how much. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28146 - Posted: 01.12.2022

By Ariana Remmel Scientists have finally sniffed out the molecules behind marijuana’s skunky aroma. The heady bouquet that wafts off of fresh weed is actually a cocktail of hundreds of fragrant compounds. The most prominent floral, citrusy and piney overtones come from a common class of molecules called terpenes, says analytical chemist Iain Oswald of Abstrax Tech, a private company in Tustin, Calif., that develops terpenes for cannabis products (SN: 4/30/18). But the source of that funky ganja note has been hard to pin down. Now, an analysis is the first to identify a group of sulfur compounds in cannabis that account for the skunklike scent, researchers report November 12 in ACS Omega. Oswald and colleagues had a hunch that the culprit may contain sulfur, a stinky element found in hops and skunk spray. So the team started by rating the skunk factor of flowers harvested from more than a dozen varieties of Cannabis sativa on a scale from zero to 10, with 10 being the most pungent. Next, the team created a “chemical fingerprint” of the airborne components that contributed to each cultivar’s unique scent using gas chromatography, mass spectroscopy and a sulfur chemiluminescence detector. As suspected, the researchers found small amounts of several fragrant sulfur compounds lurking in the olfactory profiles of the smelliest cultivars. The most dominant was a molecule called prenylthiol, or 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, that gives “skunked beer” its notorious flavor (SN: 11/27/05). © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 4: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 28092 - Posted: 12.01.2021

ByEmily Underwood Scientists have argued for decades over whether humans have pheromones, chemical compounds that trigger aggression and mating in insects and other animals. Although the notion has great popular appeal—search Amazon for “pheromone” and you’ll get the idea—there’s scant evidence for this kind of signal in our species. A new study could change that. Researchers have identified an odorless compound emitted by people—and in particular babies—called hexadecanal, or HEX, that appears to foster aggressive behavior in women and blunt it in men. “We cannot say that this is a pheromone,” says study author Noam Sobel, a neuroscientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science. “But we can say that it’s a molecule expressed by the human body that influences human behavior, specifically aggressive behavior, in a predicted manner.” Humans emit HEX from their skin, saliva, and feces, and it’s among the most abundant molecules babies emit from their heads. When researchers isolated the odorless compound and piped it into mouse cages, it had a relaxing effect on the animals, says Sobel, who studies the role of scent in human interactions. To test how HEX affects people, Eva Mishor, who earned her Ph.D. in Sobel’s lab, created a series of computer games designed to evoke intense frustration—and a measurable response to it—in 126 human participants. Half of the volunteers wore a HEX-infused adhesive strip on their upper lips while they played, whereas the other half wore strips that smelled identical but were HEX-free. In one task, participants negotiated with an unseen partner to divvy up a sum of virtual money. The participants thought they were playing with another person, but they were actually playing against computers. If a player offered their “partner” anything less than 90% of the whole amount, the computer rejected their proposals with a bright red “NO!” preventing them from earning any money. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 28086 - Posted: 11.20.2021

Abby Olena Most people enjoy umami flavor, which is perceived when a taste receptor called T1R1/T1R3 senses the amino acid glutamate. In some other mammals, such as mice, however, this same receptor is much less sensitive to glutamate. In a new study published August 26 in Current Biology, researchers uncover the molecular basis for this difference. They show that the receptor evolved in humans and some other primates away from mostly binding free nucleotides, which are common in insects, to preferentially binding glutamate, which is abundant in leaves. The authors argue that the change facilitated a major evolutionary shift in these primates toward a plant-heavy diet. “The question always comes up about the evolution of umami taste: In humans, our receptor is narrowly tuned to glutamate, and we never had a good answer for why,” says Maude Baldwin, a sensory biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany. She was not involved in the new work, but coauthored a 2014 study with Yasuka Toda, who is also a coauthor on the new paper, showing that the T1R1/T1R3 receptor is responsible for sweet taste in hummingbirds. In the new study, the authors find “that this narrow tuning has evolved convergently multiple times [and] that it’s related to folivory,” she says, calling the paper “a hallmark, fantastic study, and one that will become a textbook example of how taste evolution can relate to diet and how to address these types of questions in a rigorous, comprehensive manner.” © 1986–2021 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 28037 - Posted: 10.16.2021

Abby Olena Most people enjoy umami flavor, which is perceived when a taste receptor called T1R1/T1R3 senses the amino acid glutamate. In some other mammals, such as mice, however, this same receptor is much less sensitive to glutamate. In a new study published August 26 in Current Biology, researchers uncover the molecular basis for this difference. They show that the receptor evolved in humans and some other primates away from mostly binding free nucleotides, which are common in insects, to preferentially binding glutamate, which is abundant in leaves. The authors argue that the change facilitated a major evolutionary shift in these primates toward a plant-heavy diet. “The question always comes up about the evolution of umami taste: In humans, our receptor is narrowly tuned to glutamate, and we never had a good answer for why,” says Maude Baldwin, a sensory biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany. She was not involved in the new work, but coauthored a 2014 study with Yasuka Toda, who is also a coauthor on the new paper, showing that the T1R1/T1R3 receptor is responsible for sweet taste in hummingbirds. In the new study, the authors find “that this narrow tuning has evolved convergently multiple times [and] that it’s related to folivory,” she says, calling the paper “a hallmark, fantastic study, and one that will become a textbook example of how taste evolution can relate to diet and how to address these types of questions in a rigorous, comprehensive manner.” In 2011, Toda, who was then at the University of Tokyo and now leads a group at Meiji University in Japan, and Takumi Misaka of the University of Tokyo developed a strategy to use cultured cells to analyze the function of taste receptors. They used the technique to tease out the parts of the human T1R1/T1R3 that differed from that of mice and thus underlie the high glutamate sensitivity in the human receptor, work that they published in 2013. © 1986–2021 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 27986 - Posted: 09.13.2021

Michael Marshall Since the beginning of the pandemic, researchers have been trying to understand how the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 affects the brain.Credit: Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS/Getty How COVID-19 damages the brain is becoming clearer. New evidence suggests that the coronavirus’s assault on the brain could be multipronged: it might attack certain brain cells directly, reduce blood flow to brain tissue or trigger production of immune molecules that can harm brain cells. Infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 can cause memory loss, strokes and other effects on the brain. The question, says Serena Spudich, a neurologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is: “Can we intervene early to address these abnormalities so that people don’t have long-term problems?” With so many people affected — neurological symptoms appeared in 80% of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 who were surveyed in one study1 — researchers hope that the growing evidence base will point the way to better treatments. Breaking into the brain SARS-CoV-2 can have severe effects: a preprint posted last month2 compared images of people’s brains from before and after they had COVID-19, and found loss of grey matter in several areas of the cerebral cortex. (Preprints are published without peer review.) Early in the pandemic, researchers speculated that the virus might cause damage by somehow entering the brain and infecting neurons, the cells responsible for transmitting and processing information. But studies have since indicated3 that the virus has difficulty getting past the brain’s defence system — the blood–brain barrier — and that it doesn’t necessarily attack neurons in any significant way.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 27899 - Posted: 07.08.2021

By Elizabeth Pennisi Almost 200 years ago, the renowned U.S. naturalist John James Audubon hid a decaying pig carcass under a pile of brush to test vultures’ sense of smell. When the birds overlooked the pig—while one flocked to a nearly odorless stuffed deer skin—he took it as proof that they rely on vision, not smell, to find their food. His experiment cemented a commonly held idea. Despite later evidence that vultures and a few specialized avian hunters use odors after all, the dogma that most birds aren’t attuned to smell endured. Now, that dogma is being eroded by findings on birds’ behavior and molecular hardware, two of which were published just last month. One showed storks home in on the smell of freshly mowed grass; another documented scores of functional olfactory receptors in multiple bird species. Researchers are realizing, says evolutionary biologist Scott Edwards of Harvard University, that “olfaction has a lot of impact on different aspects of bird biology.” Forty years ago, when ethologist Floriano Papi proposed that homing pigeons find their way back to a roost by sniffing out its chemical signature, his colleagues scoffed at the idea. They pointed out that birds have several other keen senses to guide them, including sight and, in the case of pigeons and some other species, a magnetic sense. “By then, biological textbooks already stated unequivocally that birds have little to no sense of smell, and many people still believe it—even scientists,” says Danielle Whittaker, a chemical ecologist at Michigan State University. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 27897 - Posted: 07.08.2021

Kurt Schwenk As dinosaurs lumbered through the humid cycad forests of ancient South America 180 million years ago, primeval lizards scurried, unnoticed, beneath their feet. Perhaps to avoid being trampled by their giant kin, some of these early lizards sought refuge underground. Here they evolved long, slender bodies and reduced limbs to negotiate the narrow nooks and crevices beneath the surface. Without light, their vision faded, but to take its place, an especially acute sense of smell evolved. It was during this period that these proto-snakes evolved one of their most iconic traits – a long, flicking, forked tongue. These reptiles eventually returned to the surface, but it wasn’t until the extinction of dinosaurs many millions of years later that they diversified into myriad types of modern snakes. As an evolutionary biologist, I am fascinated by these bizarre tongues – and the role they have played in snakes’ success. Snake tongues are so peculiar they have fascinated naturalists for centuries. Aristotle believed the forked tips provided snakes a “twofold pleasure” from taste – a view mirrored centuries later by French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède, who suggested the twin tips could adhere more closely to “the tasty body” of the soon-to-be snack. A 17th-century astronomer and naturalist, Giovanni Battista Hodierna, thought snakes used their tongues for “picking the dirt out of their noses … since they are always grovelling on the ground.” Others contended the tongue captured flies “with wonderful nimbleness … betwixt the forks,” or gathered air for sustenance.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 27876 - Posted: 06.26.2021