Narrator: This is Science Today. The ability to smell a cup of coffee in the morning or bread baking in the oven is something that most people take for granted. But our sense of smell is more than just for pleasure. It warns us of dangers like smoke from a fire or a gas leak. Unfortunately, as we age, our sense of smell begins to diminish. Neuroscientist John Ngai of the University of California, Berkeley, says this can lead to serious health risks later in life.
Ngai: For example, in elderly patients who have lost their sense of smells, many times they don't want to eat, they don't eat very well, their nutritional status goes down, and they become quite unhealthy.
Narrator: Ngai's team has been studying the olfactory system for over 20 years. Recently they discovered an important gene for understanding what happens as we lose our sense of smell. They hope to one day develop therapies to treat age-related loss of smell.Ngai: It's an example of how just doing basic research can help us down the line, one day in the future, apply this to the human condition, which is ultimately our goal, although the immediate payoff isn't always around the corner.