Improved Sense of Smell Led to Bigger Brains

Posted May 23rd, 2011 at 6:58 pm (UTC-4)
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We all enjoy the aroma of beautiful flowers or of those freshly baked cookies. Our acute sense of smell is something that is unique to mammals. And, according to a recent discovery, it also boosted brain evolution.

The study, published in the journal Science, may help explain why mammals evolved such large and complex brains, which in some cases grew to 10 times larger than relative body size.

The researchers reconstructed and examined the fossils of Morganuocodon and Hadrocodium, which are described as tiny, shrew-like creatures from the early Jurassic Period.

They were able to find new proof that the mammalian brain evolved in three major stages:  improvements in the sense of smell,  increasing touch or tactile sensitivity from body hair and  improved neuromuscular coordination, the ability to produce skilled muscle movement using the senses.

Scientists now plan to delve further into the diversification of the brain and sensory systems as mammals evolved and diversified.

“This will unlock new secrets about how huge brains and extreme sensory adaptations evolved in mammals, such as electroreception in the platypus and sonar in whales and bats. It is all very exciting,” said lead author Tim Rowe, director of the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin.

Click here to read more on this study.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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