Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The Olfactory Determinants of Culture

First direct evidence that babies react to taste and smell in the womb
Oct 2022, phys.org

4D ultrasound -- Fetuses exposed to carrot showed more "laughter-face" responses while those exposed to kale showed more "cry-face" responses.

via Durham University: Flavour Sensing in Utero and Emerging Discriminative Behaviours in the Human Fetus, Psychological Science (2022). DOI: 10.1177/09567976221105460

Ancient humans had same sense of smell, but different sensitivities
Jan 2023, phys.org

"We had the odorant receptor genomes from Neanderthal and Denisovan individuals and we could compare them with today's humans and determine if they resulted in a different protein."

So then they tested the responses of 30 lab-grown olfactory receptors from each hominin against a battery of smells to measure how sensitive each kind of receptor was to a particular fragrance.

The laboratory tests showed the modern and ancient human receptors were essentially detecting the same odors, but their sensitivities differed.

Denisovans -- less sensitive to floral, better at sulfur, balsamic, and honey

Neanderthals -- less responsive to green, floral and spicy scents

via Duke University: Claire A. de March et al, Genetic and functional odorant receptor variation in the Homo lineage, iScience (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2022.105908

Reminder that "mummy fever" was a thing back in the 1800's and it was a big deal to break out the mummy meat for your esteemed guests, because nothing identifies the top tier of society like eating small fragrant bits of ancient humans:
Teasing out the secret recipes for mummification in ancient Egypt
Feb 2023, Ars Technica

The results: “We could identify a large diversity of substances which were used by the embalmers,” co-author Maxime Rageot of the University of Tübingen told New Scientist. Those substances included oils or tars from juniper, cypress, or cedar; various resins, including some from Pistacia trees; and animal fats, beeswax, and plant oils. Most of those have been found before in mummies, but two resins—dammar and elemi—have not been previously identified anywhere in Egypt before. They also found bitumen from the Dead Sea. -via New Scientist

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