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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sex Organ Up Your Nose

Sex Organ Up Your Nose
Listen to Karl talk about Sex Organ Up Your Nose
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We humans have a bunch of highly-developed senses, but most of our communication happens with sound and vision. Not much communication between people happens with smell. But now we are beginning to prove that we humans can influence each other with our smells - and, that we pick up these smells with a strange sex organ inside our noses!

The anatomy scientists have known for a long time about the "olfactory
epithelium". "Olfactory" means "related to smell". The olfactory epithelium is a patch of yellowish tissue high up in "ceiling" of the nose. Normally, it is poorly ventilated, but when we sniff deeply, we pass lots of air over it. In this yellow patch, there are sensory cells specially adapted for smelling. Chemicals in the air enter the nose, excite the sensory cells, and then we get the sensation of "smell".

There is also another area in the human nose that we can detect odours with - but until recently, most scientists didn't believe it existed! This is the VNO, which stands for "vomeronasal organ". Fishes, birds, and some mammals don't have a VNO, but it is very well developed in snakes and lizards.

It was first discovered by the Dutch anatomist, Ruysch, way back in 1703. It's right next to the wall that separates the nostrils, on the quot;floor" of the nose, and about a centimetre inside the nose. There's one in each nostril. It looks like a hollow tube, with only a very small opening (about one tenth of a millimetre across) into the nose. Each VNO is very small, and hard to see.

This might be why the vomeronasal organ fell out of favour, and soon the anatomists didn't even believe it existed. By the 1930's, physiologists said hat not only did we humans definitely not have a VNO, but there was no structure in the brain to process the information from any such organ. However, in 1991, a careful study found that 910 out of 1,000 people had an easily-found VNO. But the fact that we humans have a vomeronasal Organ, does not mean that it does anything.

In 1994, Luis Monti-Bloch and his team from the University of Utah actually managed to thread very fine insulated electrical wires into the VNOs of volunteers. They then wafted various smells up the noses of their volunteers, and looked for electrical activity in the cells of the VNO. These smells were various odourless chemicals from the skin of men and women. The volunteers had absolutely no conscious idea that they were getting these smells - in other words, their olfactory epithelium which smells perfumes and pollutants, did not trigger. The cells in the males' VNOs fired when they got female skin smells, and female VNOs responded to male skin smells. But the VNOs did not respond to skin smells from the same sex.

It was odd that the volunteers didn't consciously realise that their VNO was being stimulated. We can waft a smell up their nose, and their VNO can fire frantically with electrical activity - but all the volunteer gets is a vague, generalised emotion of feeling fine.

But in early 1998, an excellent experiment showed a more definite effect - that some female smells could trigger women's menstrual cycles. Kathleen Stern and Martha McClintock from the Psychology Department at the University of Chicago did the experiment. They had some "donor" women, who gave away the smells in their armpits (via a pad that they wore for 8 hours per day). They also had some "recipient" women, who were exposed to these smells. The smells were completely odourless, as far their conscious brains were concerned. And of course, the two groups, donors and recipients, never met face-to-face.

The smells were taken from the donor women at two different times in their menstrual cycle. When the smells were taken before the donors ovulated, the ecipient's menstrual cycles became shorter. But when the smells were taken right on the donors' ovulation, the recipient's menstrual cycles became longer. The overall effect was to synchronise the cycle of the recipient, with the cycle of the donor.

This was a pretty good experiment, but we're still not 100% sure that the smells from one human can influence another human. For one thing, this effect happened to only 70% of the volunteers - so what's going on in the remaining 30%? For another thing, our neuroanatomists have not yet proved that nerves from the human VNO go to the relevant parts of the brain. The only way to do that is to get several corpses, add some dye to the VNO, and wait a few month for the dye to migrate, and then very carefully cut open the brain.

So if your boyfriend or girlfriend gets up your nose, it may not be their

This Great Moment
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The Chemistry Between People: Are Our Bodies Affected by Another Person’s Scent?

Magazine article in Newsweek, 1/12/87.
Copyright Newsweek Magazine [Excerpted]
The Chemistry Between People: Are Our Bodies Affected by Another Person’s Scent? By Terence Monmaney with Susan Katz

The air is loaded with secrets, with intimate messages both unseen and unheard. Ready! A female moth announces, and male moths miles away soon receive the invitation and head upwind, eager to mate. A dog goes into heat, and male dogs all over the neighborhood are drawn by a telltale scent to her masters’ door.

In creatures as different as bugs and dogs, life-and-death messages are relayed via a specialized chemical known as a pheromone - a substance that works much like a hormone, but is released by one individual and prompts changes in the physiology or behavior of another.

Ever since scientists discovered pheromones 30 years ago, they’ve found such chemical communication in hundreds of species - from moths to mice to monkeys. And man? Do we, the great communicators, also make use of such potent and unambiguous signals? Is there literal truth to the notion that when people get along, it is because of the right "chemistry"?

There have been plenty of claims. A mother's' pheromones, researchers once said, are what attract her infant to her breasts. ***

But while the ideas of human pheromones is intriguing, the dozens or so studies that addressed the possibility in the past 10 years were disappointing: no one established beyond a doubt that human pheromones exists.

Now two new studies are stirring up the pheromone debate with the boldest claims yet. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute in Philadelphia, say that people produce underarm pheromones that can influence menstrual cycles.

The studies, done by chemist George Preti and biologist Winnifred B. Cutler, are not the first of their kind, but they are the first ones rigorous enough to be published in a respected scientific journal, Hormones and Behavior.

In one study the researchers collected underarm secretions from men who wore a pad in each armpit. This "male essence" {pheromone} was then swabbed, three times a week, on the upper lips of seven women whose cycles typically lasted less than 26 days or more than 33. By the third month of such treatment, the average length of the women's cycles began to approach the optimum 29.5 days - the cycle length associated with highest fertility.

Cutler's conclusion: " Male essence" contains at least one pheromone that "helps promote reproductive health".

Female Essence: The experiment was more rigorous than earlier ones for two reasons. It employed a control group - eight women who were swabbed with alcohol showed no effect - and it was performed in "double-blind" fashion: neither the subjects nor the researchers knew whether alcohol or male essence dissolved in alcohol was being applied until after the study.


In Cutler and Preti’s second experiment, they studied menstrual synchrony - the phenomenon that women who live in close quarters tend to have cycles that coincide *** This time Cutler and Preti exposed 10 women with normal cycles to female underarm sweat . After three months of the same sweat-on-the-lip treatment, the women's cycles were starting roughly in synchrony with those of the women who had donated the sweat. Menstrual synchrony was first documented in 1970 when psychologist Martha McClintock studied women living in a college dormitory.

But this new study is the first to offer solid evidence that pheromone are what mediate the effect.

"Pheromones are real in human beings., "concludes Preti...

End of Newsweek Excerpt
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