Like Charles Darwin before them, Monell sensory neuroscientist Sanne Boesveldt, PhD, and her collaborator Karlijn van Stralen, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, will gather information from around the world to advance scientific knowledge.
In each of the approximately 25 worldwide ports where the Beagle ship docks, crew members will ask local participants will complete a ‘scratch and sniff’ smell test to evaluate their response to the same 12 odors. The researchers hope that the findings will provide insight into how our response to odor is influenced by culture and gender.
Odors to be used in the test are cinnamon, turpentine, lemon, smoke, chocolate, rose, paint thinner, banana, pineapple, gasoline, soap, and onion. Ratings will include intensity, pleasantness and familiarity, and participants also will be asked to identify the odor.
“This global project potentially could provide insight into why a given person will like some odors but not others, “said Boesveldt. “We expect that some of the odors will be less familiar in certain cultures than in others. What we don’t know is how this will influence how people rate the odor’s pleasantness or intensity.”
The smell experiment was selected by organizers of the Beagle project as part of a scientific contest to participate in the Beagle adventure. Sponsored by Dutch television station VPRO, the project – entitled “On the Future of Species” – will reconstruct Darwin’s voyage to examine today’s world from the perspective of evolution.
The sense of smell appeared early in evolution – even before sight and hearing – as a way for organisms to obtain information about the surrounding world. Cues detected by this ancient sense could signal the presence of nearby food, a likely mate or looming danger; information critical for continued survival. Over time, smell has developed into a means of communication in many species. Social status, sexual receptivity, and even personal identity are just some of the types of information detected through smell.
Boesveldt’s current research focuses on how the brain perceives and processes odors. A postdoctoral fellow at Monell with an interest in the influence of smell on normal and disordered human eating behavior, she explains, “Smell plays a critical role in human nutrition, food intake, and related diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Our project on the Beagle journey looks at gender differences and also at differences between how humans respond to food versus nonfood odors, so it’s right up my alley.”
Despite the evolutionary importance of smell, many mysteries remain about this ancient sense. It is only within the past 15 years that scientists have begun to understand how odors are detected. Much remains to be discovered. How many different odors can humans smell? How do odors influence human emotions, behavior and health? And the question addressed by Boesveldt and van Stralen: What determines how we respond to a given odor?
Noting Darwin’s keen interest in the sense of smell, Boesveldt comments, “Darwin recognized that smell is important to species survival in many ways. The Beagle project allows us to continue his pioneering work and also to educate people about this vital sense.”
The Beagle journey departs from Plymouth, England on September 1. Highly interactive, the voyage will be filmed and broadcast on television and the web as a weekly documentary series. Scientific findings will be available on the Beagle website, http://beagle.vpro.nl/, which also contains more information on the Beagle project.
The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Monell advances scientific understanding of the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell to benefit human health and well-being. Using an interdisciplinary approach, scientists collaborate in the programmatic areas of sensation and perception; neuroscience and molecular biology; environmental and occupational health; nutrition and appetite; health and well-being; development, aging and regeneration; and chemical ecology and communication. For more information about Monell, visit www.monell.org.
Leslie Stein | Newswise Science News
Cells communicate in a dynamic code
19.02.2018 | California Institute of Technology
Studying mitosis' structure to understand the inside of cancer cells
19.02.2018 | Biophysical Society
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.02.2018 | Life Sciences