Meaning, Culture and Cognition

Centre for Language Studies | Faculty of Arts | Radboud University Nijmegen

Colloquium “Categories, Diversity & Contact”

Date: Wednesday 3 December 2014
Time: 15:30 – 17ː00
Location: GN 6 (Gymnasion, Heyendaalseweg 141)
Kara Hoover (University of Alaska Fairbanks) – Eat what you smell: patterns of global variation in human olfactory receptors

My olfactory population genetics research engages with the long-standing assumption that the sense of smell has little to no functional significance in primate (and particularly) human evolution. Yet, there is tremendous genetic, geographic, and cultural variation in olfactory perception. The field of olfactory genetics is young—the receptors were discovered in 1991. Among the genes that have been linked to detection of specific odors, many are related to diet and possibly food preference. Geographic variation in available foods during human evolutionary migrations out of Africa may have served as an adaptive pressure on these genes. For example, my research indicates that there are signatures of selection acting on OR7D4, an olfactory receptor associated with sex pheromone detection and pig meat preference. These signatures were detected in sub-Saharan African and Eurasian populations. While genetics form a platform to explore variation in the sense of smell, field-based studies would have to consider culture, language, and cross-modal perceptual factors. 


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