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Genetics of chemosensory transduction: taste and smell
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My name is Leslie Vosshall, I'm Chemers Family Associate Professor at the Rockefeller University in New York. And I'll be talking to you today about the genetics of chemosensory transduction: taste and smell. Comparing strategies in vertebrates and in the genetic organism, the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster.
All animals, from the most primitive life forms to humans, have some sort of a sense of the external world. And these senses allow animals to interact with their environment, acquire information, and make adaptive decisions. Most higher animals have five senses, the physical senses of touch, vision, and hearing, and the chemical senses of taste and smell. And it's the latter two, the chemical senses, that I'll be discussing in this presentation. These senses allow animals to find food, avoid danger, avoid predators and find mates.
So for instance, an animal will smell fire long before it hears it, or sees it. And this is a very ancient sensory modality that animals have to recognize the distinctive odor of fire.
The senses of taste and smell are crucial for animals to find food, And also to find mates.
So it's well described that animals will release substances called pheromones that will allow males and females to recognize each other as being of the same species and of the appropriate sex for mating.
The odor of a predator is an extremely important cue for small prey animals that they recognize and respond to. So for instance, in the mouse brain there are neurons that are exquisitely tuned to the smell of fox and coyote urine. And this is an adaptive use of the sense of smell for animals to avoid their predators at a distance.