Chapter 9. Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell

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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

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Evolution
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

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
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.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 28349 - Posted: 06.04.2022

Freda Kreier Some bats can imitate the sound of buzzing hornets to scare off owls, researchers say. The discovery is the first documented case of a mammal mimicking an insect to deter predators. Many animals copy other creatures in a bid to make themselves seem less palatable to predators. Most of these imitations are visual. North America’s non-venomous scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides), for instance, has evolved to have similar colour-coding to the decidedly more dangerous eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius). Now, a study comparing the behaviour of owls exposed to insect and bat noises suggests that greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis) might be among the few animals to have weaponized another species’ sound, says co-author Danilo Russo, an animal ecologist at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy. “When we think of mimicry, the first thing that comes to mind is colour, but in this case, it is sound that plays a crucial role,” he adds. The research was published on 9 May in Current Biology1. Because they are nocturnal and have poor eyesight, most bats rely on echolocation to find their way around, and communicate using a wide array of other noises. Russo first noticed that the distress call of the greater mouse-eared bat sounded like the buzzing of bees or hornets while he was catching the bats for a different research project. To investigate whether other animals might make the same connection, Russo and his colleagues compared the sound structure of buzzing by the European hornet (Vespa crabro) to that of the bat’s distress call. At most frequencies, the two sounds were not dramatically similar, but they were when the bat’s call was stripped down to include only frequencies that owls — one of the animal’s main predators — are able to hear. This suggests that the distress call as heard by owls strongly resembles the buzzing of a hornet, Russo says, so it could fool predators. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Hearing; Evolution
Link ID: 28324 - Posted: 05.11.2022

Neuroscience researchers have found a master gene that controls the development of special sensory cells in the ears – potentially opening the door to reversing hearing loss. A team led by Jaime García-Añoveros of Northwestern University, US, established that a gene called Tbx2 controls the development of ear hair cells in mice. The findings of their study are published today in Nature. What are hair cells? Hair cells are the sensory cells in our ears that detect sound and then transmit a message to our brains. They are so named because they have tiny hairlike structures called stereocilia. “The ear is a beautiful organ,” says García-Añoveros. “There is no other organ in a mammal where the cells are so precisely positioned.” Hair cells are found in a structure called the organ of Corti, in the cochlea in the inner ear. The organ of Corti sits on top of the basilar membrane. Sound waves are funnelled through our ear canal and cause the eardrum (also known as the tympanic membrane) and ossicles (tiny bones called the malleus, incus and stapes) to vibrate. The vibrations, or waves, are transmitted through fluid in the cochlea, causing the basilar membrane to move as well. When the basilar membrane moves, the stereocilia tilt, causing ion channels in the hair cell membrane to open. This stimulates the hair cell to release neurotransmitter chemicals, which will transmit the sound signal to the brain via the auditory nerve.

Keyword: Hearing; Regeneration
Link ID: 28319 - Posted: 05.07.2022

By Sabrina Imbler Sign up for Science Times Get stories that capture the wonders of nature, the cosmos and the human body. Get it sent to your inbox. One morning in the Panamanian rainforest, a small fruit bat sized up his competition. The odds did not appear to be in his favor. The winged mammal, a Seba’s short-tailed bat, weighed about half an ounce. But his six opponents, fringe-lipped bats, were twice as heavy and occupying the shrouded corner where the small bat wanted to roost. Even worse, the larger bats are known to feast on small animals, such as frogs, katydids and smaller bats — including Seba’s short-tailed bats. None of this fazed the Seba’s short-tailed bat, which proceeded to scream, shake his wings and hurl his body at the posse of bigger bats, slapping one in the face more than 50 times. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Ahana Aurora Fernandez, a behavioral biologist at the Natural History Museum, Berlin, who viewed a recording of the bats but was not involved in the research that produced it. “It’s one bat against six,” Dr. Fernandez said. “He shows no fear at all.” The tiny bat’s belligerence paid off as the big bats fled. The corner clear, the Seba’s short-tailed bat moved in, joined a minute later by his female companion, who had nonchalantly watched the fight from nearby. This fun-size brawl and two similar bat bullying incidents in other roosts were observed by Mariana Muñoz-Romo, a biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and her colleagues, who had been monitoring the sexual preferences of the larger fringe-lipped bats. In a paper published in March in the journal Behaviour, they asked how often tiny bats antagonize bigger ones. When it comes with a risk of being eaten, why pick a fight? The researchers originally set out to study fringe-lipped bats, who were recently discovered to smear a sticky, fragrant substance on their arms, potentially to attract mates. The animals also have impressive appetites, and have been observed eating sizable frogs. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Hearing
Link ID: 28287 - Posted: 04.16.2022

By Sharon Oosthoek Despite their excellent vision, one city-dwelling colony of fruit bats echolocates during broad daylight — completely contrary to what experts expected. A group of Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) in downtown Tel Aviv uses sound to navigate in the middle of the day, researchers report in the April 11 Current Biology. The finding greatly extends the hours during which bats from this colony echolocate. A few years ago, some team members had noticed bats clicking while they flew under low-light conditions. The midday sound-off seems to help the bats forage and navigate, even though they can see just fine. Bats that are active during the day are unusual. Out of the more than 1,400 species, roughly 10 are diurnal. What’s more, most diurnal bats don’t use echolocation during the day, relying instead on their vision to forage and avoid obstacles. They save echolocation for dim light or dark conditions. So that’s why, two years ago, a group of Tel Aviv researchers were surprised when they noticed a bat smiling during the day. They were looking over photos from their latest study of Egyptian fruit bats when they noticed one with its mouth slightly parted and upturned. “When an Egyptian fruit bat is smiling, he’s echolocating — he’s producing clicks with his tongue and his mouth is open,” says Ofri Eitan, a bat researcher at Tel Aviv University. “But this was during the day, and these bats see really well.” When Eitan and his colleagues looked through other photos — thousands of them — many showed smiling bats in broad daylight. The team showed in 2015 that the diurnal Egyptian fruit bats do use echolocation outdoors under various low light conditions, at least occasionally. But the researchers hadn’t looked at whether the bats were echolocating during midday hours when light levels are highest. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Hearing; Evolution
Link ID: 28286 - Posted: 04.16.2022

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

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
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

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Learning & Memory
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

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 28232 - Posted: 03.05.2022

Nicola Davis Science correspondent It may not yet feature in a West End musical but scientists say they have found an unexpected response to singin’ in the brain. Researchers say they have found particular groups of neurons that appear to respond selectively to the sound of singing. Writing in the journal Current Biology, a team of scientists in the US report how they made their discovery by recording electrical activity in the brains of 15 participants, each of whom had electrodes inserted inside their skulls to monitor epileptic seizures before undergoing surgery. The team recorded electrical activity in response to 165 different sounds, from pieces of instrumental music to speech and sounds such as dogs barking, and then processed them using an algorithm. They combined the results with data from fMRI brain scans previously collected from 30 different individuals to map the location of the patterns in the brain. Dr Samuel Norman-Haignere, a co-author of the study based at the University of Rochester, said the team decided to combine the data from the different approaches to overcome their respective weaknesses and combine their strengths. “fMRI is one of the workhorses of human cognitive neuroscience, but it is very coarse. Intracranial data is much more precise but has very poor spatial coverage,” he said. The results confirmed previous findings from fMRI scans that some neurons respond only to speech or respond more strongly to music. However, they also revealed populations of neurons that appear to respond selectively to the sound of singing, showing only very weak responses to other types of music or speech alone. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Hearing; Attention
Link ID: 28217 - Posted: 02.23.2022

Jon Hamilton When Michael Schneider's anxiety and PTSD flare up, he reaches for the ukulele he keeps next to his computer. "I can't actually play a song," says Schneider, who suffered two serious brain injuries during nearly 22 years in the Marines. "But I can play chords to take my stress level down." It's a technique Schneider learned through Creative Forces, an arts therapy initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. It's also an example of how arts therapies are increasingly being used to treat brain conditions including PTSD, depression, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. But most of these treatments, ranging from music to poetry to visual arts, still have not undergone rigorous scientific testing. So artists and brain scientists have launched an initiative called the NeuroArts Blueprint to change that. A brain circuit tied to emotion may lead to better treatments for Parkinson's disease Shots - Health News A brain circuit tied to emotion may lead to better treatments for Parkinson's disease The initiative is the result of a partnership between the Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind Lab Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics and the Aspen Institute's Health, Medicine and Society Program. Its leadership includes soprano Renée Fleming, actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, and Dr. Eric Nestler, who directs the Friedman Brain Institute at Mt. Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine. One goal of the NeuroArts initiative is to measure how arts therapies change the brains of people like Schneider. "I had a traumatic brain injury when I was involved in a helicopter incident on board a U.S. Naval vessel," he explains. That was in 2005. Article continues after sponsor message Later that same year, he experienced sudden decompression – the aviator's version of the bends — while training for high-altitude flights. The result was like a stroke. © 2022 npr

Keyword: Stress; Hearing
Link ID: 28212 - Posted: 02.19.2022

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.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Evolution
Link ID: 28198 - Posted: 02.12.2022

By Hallie Levine If you have ever had a ringing or buzzing in one or both ears after a live concert, you have experienced tinnitus — defined as the perception of noise where no external noise is present, according to the American Tinnitus Association. Aside from loud sound, a variety of issues, like excess ear wax, infections and nasal congestion, can cause short-term tinnitus. After a loud event like a concert, the intrusive sounds usually fade within hours to days. But chronic tinnitus — where noise persistently waxes and wanes, or never disappears — affects about 11 percent of adults. In some cases, this can lead to trouble sleeping or concentrating, isolation, anxiety, depression and stress. A 2019 research letter published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery found that women with undiagnosed tinnitus were even at increased risk of suicide. Is there a covid-19 connection? During the pandemic, reports of tinnitus rose, especially in people with covid-19. A study published online last March in the International Journal of Audiology estimated that almost 15 percent of those with covid-19 said they had tinnitus, often early in the course of the virus. This typically lasted only a few days. But “there have been anecdotal reports from patients that they have experienced changes in hearing and tinnitus post-covid,” says Cleveland Clinic audiologist Sarah Sydlowski, president of the American Academy of Audiology. One theory is that the virus that causes covid-19 damages the auditory nerve at least temporarily, says Douglas Hildrew, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist at Yale Medicine.

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 28190 - Posted: 02.09.2022

ByWarren Cornwall Bats use sound to hunt a dizzying array of prey. Some zero in on flowers to sip nectar, whereas others find cattle and suck their blood. Many nab insects midflight. One species of bat senses small fish beneath the water and snatches them as osprey do. Now, scientists have discovered an anatomical quirk in the ears of some bats that could help explain how they evolved so many hunting specialties. “For me this is a huge revelation,” says Zhe-Xi Luo, a University of Chicago evolutionary biologist who has studied the origins of mammalian hearing and supervised the new research. “This is totally distinct and unique from all other hearing mammals.” Most bats use their ears to “see” the world around them: After a bat chirps, its ears sense shapes and movement as sound waves bounce off objects, much as ships use sonar. Bats’ ears were long thought to be just a finely tuned version of the ears of nearly all mammals. Then, in 2015, Benjamin Sulser, a University of Chicago biology student on the hunt for a thesis project, took detailed 3D images of the inner ear of a bat skull. But he couldn’t find a feature common in virtually all mammals—a bony tube that encases the nerve cells and connects the ear to the brain. Thinking he’d made a mistake, he and Luo imaged the skulls of two more related species using a computed tomography scanner, with similar results. The researchers realized they might have stumbled across an answer to a mystery that had bedeviled bat biologists for 2 decades—and an explanation for why some families of bats had such a diverse echolocation arsenal. © 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 28175 - Posted: 01.29.2022

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.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
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.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Obesity
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.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
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

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
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.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 28151 - Posted: 01.12.2022