Odor Exposure in the Womb Primes the Palate

Moms, want your children to eat their greens? Then you have to eat them, too, at least while you’re pregnant. Researchers have found that offspring of mouse mothers fed a diet enhanced with cherry and mint flavors during pregnancy continued to prefer these flavors into adulthood, while mice from mothers fed on a bland diet had no food preference. The rodents with a penchant for mint-cherry food developed larger glomeruli, the region of the brain responsible for processing odor—the first evidence that exposure to odors in the womb alters the way the brain develops. From the fetus’ point of view, this is a good evolutionary strategy; eat the foods that your mother ate because they are probably safe. It is likely that all mammals, including humans, develop their sense of taste in this same way, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, so expectant moms, be careful the next time you have a hankering for anchovies with chocolate sauce.

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