But we humans can’t smell it – Odors that represent food or indicate danger are capable of altering an animal’s lifespan (and ours too?) by activating a small number of highly specialized sensory neurons in our brains. Does this mean that in order to live a long life, we should surround ourselves with good smells (rather than bad ones?)
Smells can impact a wide range of health-related characteristics including athletic performance, type II diabetes, and aging. Nematode worms and fruit flies that were robbed of their ability to smell or taste, for example, lived substantially longer. However, the specific odors that control this effect on aging are unknown.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) was the first well-defined smell that researchers tested on fruit flies that was capable of altering affecting their aging: Flies incapable of smelling CO2 lived longer than flies with normal olfactory capabilities. Most humans can’t smell carbon dioxide in the air, but as this greenhouse gas increases in our atmosphere, will we be affected by it anyway? This could help mitigate against the negative effects of climate change on humans.
To many insects, including fruit flies, CO2 represents an important odor cue that indicates the presence of food, such as rotting fruit or animal blood, or neighbors in distress.
Sensory perception has been shown to impact aging in species that are separated by millions of years of evolution, suggesting that similar effects may be seen in humans. Science Daily quotes researcher Scott Pletcher as saying, “For us, it may not be the smell of yeast, for example, or the sensing of CO2 that affects how long we live, but it may be the perception of food or danger.” If so, a clever program of inhaling selected smells might form the basis of a simple yet powerful program of disease prevention and healthy aging.
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