Sixth Sense: The Vomeronasal Organ Essay

Sixth Sense: The Vomeronasal Organ Essay

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Sixth Sense: The Vomeronasal Organ


"We are all more influenced by smell than we know." (Hercule Poirot)
....Murder in Retrospect, Agatha Christie

Biologists have long realized that the noses of most vertebrates actually contain two sensory channels. The first is the familiar olfactory system, which humans possess. The second channel is the vomeronasal complex, a system that has its own separate organs, nerves, and connecting structures in the brain. The function of the vomeronasal system is the detection of pheromones, chemical messengers that carry information between individuals of the same species. It was widely believed (as I found in some of the older texts I examined) that humans had long ago discarded this sensory system somewhere along evolution's trail. But convincing behavioral and anatomical evidence has since brought the notion of a human vomeronasal organ (VNO) into the realm of scientific fact. Some thirty years ago, when anatomist David Berliner was studying human skin composition using scraped skin cells from the insides of discarded casts, he found that when he left vials containing skin extracts open, his lab assistants would become more friendly and warm than usual (1). When, months later, he decided to cover the vials, the warm and relaxed behavior was noticeably reduced. These findings led him to investigate the possible existence of odorless human pheromones and a "sixth sense" organ to detect their presence, a VNO.

While this early evidence was not empirical, anatomists have since found that all humans display two tiny pits, with duct openings, on both sides of the septum just behind the opening of the nose (3). The duct leads into a tubular lumen lacking a thick, distinct sensory epithelium. ...


... middle of paper ...


...ture textbooks will attribute to humans this mysterious, unconscious sixth sense.


WWW Sources

1)Chemicals the cause excitement
http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/art97/pherom.html

2)VNO website
http://neuro.fsu.edu/research/vomer.htm

3)Science Frontiers article
http://www.science-frontiers.com/sf090/sf090b06.htm

4)Chemical Communication by Willam C. Agosta

5) Olfactory Receptors, Vomeronasal Receptors, and the Organization of Olfactory Information. From Cell, a journal

6)Howard Hughes olfactory website
http://www.hhmi.org/senses/d220.html

7)Article from The Scientist
http://euclid.ucsd.edu/~weinrich/theScientist2.html

8)Pheromone Book Review
http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/psyc-bin/newpsy?7.12

Additional Sources

Messages sent through sweat
http://www.patscan.ca//sweat.html

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