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Historical Smell Mismatch

April 6, 2017

The mismatch between the smells in the environment we evolved in and the one we live in today could impact our health.



Mismatched smells. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Because we rely on our vision, it’s easy to overlook our sense of smell. But according to University of Alaska biological anthropologist Kara Hoover, we have as many genes for olfaction as our closest primate relatives. We’re just adapted to differently-scented environments. And, as modern humans, we’ve profoundly reshaped those environments.

KARA HOOVER (University of Alaska):

We’ve domesticated ourselves, we’ve got advanced technologies. And there’s some evidence to suggest that horticulture vs. industrial agriculture, vs. hunting and gathering might be influencing ability to smell.


At a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Hoover warned that a mismatch between the environment we’re adapted to and the hotter, stinkier world we live in today could lead to increased stress, poorer health,  and wider socioeconomic disparities. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard