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Question Your World: Can Our Senses Impact How Long We Live?

Our senses build the framework for a lot of our memories. Smells, scents, tastes, touch, and sight are how we approach the world, but is that the extent of what they have to offer? Can our senses impact how long we live? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

We live in a very mysterious world. Since the dawn of mankind we have been feverishly working at solving the many mysteries of life. After nearly 200,000 years on this planet we’ve figured out the motions of celestial bodies, how to use air waves to send messages to devices, the internal structure of our genetics, and much ore. No worries though, there are plenty of mysteries left to be solved. For example, recently scientists started to study the taste buds of fruit flies. The bitter and sweet favoring taste buds in fruit flies were compared to the longevity of the animal and the results yielded some interesting finds. The fruit flies with bitter leaning tastes showed negative sings during aging while flies that preferred sweeter tastes showed better results in aging. This alone is interesting, but the next piece of information blew everything out of the water, including the taste. Flies that had suppressed taste for water lived 43% longer than normal! Something about removing the organisms taste for water made the animal live far longer than it was supposed to.

Now, this is the furthest they were able to get in their study. More work needs to go into figuring out this mystery; however they did make an interesting hypothesis. For now the working hypothesis is that the brain’s inability to recognize the taste of water made the organism drink more water than normal. This extra water would find its way through the body and get stored where possible, usually fat. This fat is then with the organism and gets broken down as needed thus releasing the fat-stored water back into the living system. A hydrated and properly maintained organism would live longer, but there must still be another change allowing for such a long extension on life. The big question now raised is can removing the taste of water change the biochemistry of an organism?

There is no clear answer on this just yet and more testing is needed, but it does bring up a few very interesting points. Ages ago when we were hunting and gathering food on the plains of Africa we would gather around fires in the night time. This was a great time to socialize, rest, and eat food! Well sitting at the fire and cooking food actually did a lot more than keep us warm and safe, it actually changed our bodies. Eating cooked food is way easier to digest than just biting into a raw animal. The advent of cooking food and making it easier to digest saved a lot of energy in our bodies. That energy is then redirected to other places and all of a sudden we see the advent of community structures, improved weapons and tools, and so on. The brain’s increased energy input went a long ways and allowed us to do things we had never done before. Perhaps the suppressed taste for water has had a similar impact at some biochemical level, perhaps this is an energy-saving method or allows for an entirely different chemical process all together?

The other thought this brings up is that of longevity. Currently humans live about 80 years. French woman, Jeanne Calment, lived to a whopping 122 years old. Let’s say we are able to solve the mystery that is taste bud impacts on longevity, what would an added 43% look like for humans? Well, if the average person lives to 80 then the extended life that someone could have would be around 114 years. Imagine that world for a moment, interesting thought.

Article by: Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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