The Best-Laid Schemes of Mice and Men.

The Best-Laid Schemes of Mice and Men.

We’ve domesticated animals for as long as we can remember. When you think of domestication, you probably think of companion animals like dogs and cats, work animals like horses and oxen, and meat animals like chickens and cows. Each of these species can be found in many shapes and sizes, due to millennia of selective breeding that strengthened the traits we as humans found useful or desirable.

Today's discussion, though, focuses not on companion, work or meat animals, but on the house mouse, Mus musculus, the most widely-used mammalian genetic model organism

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More chocolate flavored peas, please

More chocolate flavored peas, please

As I watched *Willy Wonky & the Chocolate Factory* for the first time, I sat in awe as the somewhat obnoxious Miss Violet Beauregard chewed the gum of my dreams. Willy Wonka proudly explained that the gum would go through three stages of flavors, starting with ‘tomato soup’, then changing to ‘roast beef and baked potato’, before ending with ‘blueberry pie and ice cream.’ I spent the rest of the afternoon drawing pictures of my favorite foods, imagining the various gum trifectas I could create. 

This obsession phase inspired my initial interest in the idea of tricking my extremely picky taste buds, and from then on I found myself constantly wishing for some magical device or food spray to “make veggies taste good”. And although the idea initially seems absurd, ten years later, recent advances in thechnology have shown that the idea of directly manipulating what we taste is more possible than we might think. 

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Can electronic tongues change the future of taste?

Can electronic tongues change the future of taste?

Imagine that you are about to take your first bite into a brownie ice cream sundae, or your mom’s homemade special lasagna. I bet the memory of your favorite foods is making your taste buds tingle. Right. This. Second.

Now picture a computer “tasting” the difference between an apple and apple pie. Is a computer algorithm really capable of mimicking our gustatory taste system?

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When seeing is not really believing: How neural adaptation can deceive us

When seeing is not really believing: How neural adaptation can deceive us

It’s a misty morning in 380 B.C. Greece, and Aristotle is taking his daily stroll along a flowing brook. Eventually he stops and observes the water, letting his eyes soften their focus on its motion. When he finally rips his gaze away, he notices that the stationary rocks around the brook seem to be moving in his gaze, as if they’re floating upstream! He quickly jots this observation down: “the senses are affected in this way when they turn quickly from objects in motion, e.g. from looking at a river and especially from looking at swiftly flowing streams. For objects at rest then seem to be in motion.” 

What Aristotle had experienced so many years ago, was something we now call the motion-aftereffect (MAE). The MAE, sometimes called the waterfall effect because of its origin of discovery, is a visual illusion that occurs after our eyes focus on a moving visual stimulus for about 10 milliseconds to a minute, and when we look away, we observe stationary objects moving in the opposite direction of the moving stimulus.

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Supersensors: How the loss of one sense impacts the others

Supersensors: How the loss of one sense impacts the others

Would you ever voluntarily give up one of your senses? Turns out, the answer for an ever-increasing number of people is yes (albeit only temporarily). Novelty concepts such as dining in the dark have risen in popularity over the past decade; restaurant-goers frequently give up their sense of sight as a way to have a “heightened” mealtime experience. Most of these diners believe that their temporary blindness intensifies their other sensations - but how would a more permanent loss of sensation affect the ways we perceive our world?

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For those with pure word deafness, actions always speak louder than words

For those with pure word deafness, actions always speak louder than words

The phone rings — you hear it. The caller ID displays — you read it. You pick up the phone — you say hello. But no matter how hard you listen, you can’t understand a single word that’s said either by you or the caller. 

No, you haven't just crossed over into the Twilight Zone; you have a rare syndrome called pure word deafness (PWD). Individuals with PWD cannot understand any speech, even if they can identify other sounds and read written words with no difficulty whatsoever

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The ballad of flavor, or Why my mother smells funny

The ballad of flavor, or Why my mother smells funny

When I say my mother smells funny, I don't mean that she has an odor or can sniff out humor, but that her senses have been altered. A number of years ago, my mother slipped on a bathroom floor and hit her head. The displacement of her brain stunned her seventh nerve and severed her olfactory bulb, which convey taste and smell, respectively. For several weeks the experience of eating was like chewing textured cardboard. Her sense of texture was intact, but if she closed her eyes she couldn’t tell the difference between biting into a fresh apple and biting into a raw potato. Luckily, her taste recovered (debatable), but her smell hasn’t.
 

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