Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Got Smell?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Got Smell?

Article excerpt

As anyone suffering through a head cold knows, food tastes wrong when the nose is clogged--an experience that leads many to conclude that the sense of taste operates normally only when the olfactory system is also in good working order. Evidence that the taste system influences olfactory perception, however, has been rare--until now. In a study published in Nature Neuroscience, Brandeis University researchers report just such an influence.

Neuroscientist Don Katz and colleagues discovered that if the taste cortex in rats is inactivated when a rat first smells a food odor, the rat will only recognize the food associated with that odor if the taste cortex is again inactivated. "We discovered that rats use their taste system to smell with, so when you knock out the taste cortex, even for an hour, as we did, you alter their sense of smell," Katz explains.

Katz and his colleagues used a multistep training process to test the inter-dependence of the taste and olfactory systems. In the first step, a demonstrator rat that had just eaten chow flavored with one of four spices was introduced to a subject rat, which then smelled the demonstrator rat's breath.

In the second step, the subject rat was offered two choices of chow: one dish with the same flavor previously consumed by the demonstrator rat and an other with a different flavor. The subject rat reliably preferred the food that it had previously smelled on the demonstrator rat's breath the day before. …

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