Monday, October 08, 2012

The Smell of Mom:

The Smell of Mom:
The ability to find and latch on to their mother's nipples is a very important one - without being able to suckle, newborns would quickly perish. But how this ability actually works and what causes it are very complicated questions. Even in utero mammals can be exposed to a range of different experiences, complicating the issue even further!

Previous research had already demonst
rated that the main olfactory epithelium (MOE) - the principal smell organ - was key in suckling, and Stowers and her team believed a pheromone would be the trigger (as it had proved to be with the European Rabbit). To determine what was the trigger they set about removing maternal fluids, such as milk and the mother's saliva, from the newborns' environment.

It was only when the amniotic fluid was removed that newborn mice no longer suckled - suckling had been observed in the absence of mother's milk and saliva. Next the team separated the amniotic fluid into its constituent elements, expecting to find a smell trigger. But nothing produced the suckling response. The amniotic fluid had to be present in its entirety for suckling to occur.

The process is an interaction between nature and nurture. While the mother's amniotic fluid is unique to her, newborns must learn its odour in order to suckle. These results may have implications in explaining other behaviours. Stowers commented, "If the mouse can effectively use this mechanism to release such an important behavior, it is possible that signature odors underlie the release of other apparently innate behaviors; in mice or even humans."

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