Is smell influenced by our culture or are genes? As part of a year-long recreation of Darwin’s epic voyage on the HMS Beagle, olfactory scientist Sanne Boesveldt will explore how people respond to smell at each of the ship’s ports of call.

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.

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, delivering information about such things as social status and sexual receptivity.

Boesveldt says, “This global project potentially could provide insight into why a given person will like some odors but not others. We expect that some of the odors will be less familiar in certain cultures than in others. 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 desert smells great in the fall, so that’s when we’ll be holding our conference! We hope to see you there! We guarantee it will be a magical time. Rub the Buddha statue’s belly for luck, bring along a good book and read yourself to sleep, then settle down to some great dreams.

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