Taste buds may play a powerful role in a long and healthy life - at least for fruit flies, according to new research.
Researchers from the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Switzerland found that suppressing the animal's ability to taste its food - regardless of how much it actually eats - can significantly increase or decrease its length of life and potentially promote healthy ageing.
Bitter tastes could have negative effects on lifespan, sweet tastes had positive effects, and the ability to taste water had the most significant impact - flies that could not taste water lived up to 43 per cent longer than other flies.
The findings suggest that in fruit flies, the loss of taste may cause physiological changes to help the body adapt to the perception that it's not getting adequate nutrients.
In the case of flies whose loss of water taste led to a longer life, authors say the animals may attempt to compensate for a perceived water shortage by storing greater amounts of fat and subsequently using these fat stores to produce water internally.
"This brings us further understanding about how sensory perception affects health. It turns out that taste buds are doing more than we think," said senior author of the University of Michigan-led study Scott Pletcher.
"We know they're able to help us avoid or be attracted to certain foods but in fruit flies, it appears that taste may also have a very profound effect on the physiological state and healthy ageing," said Pletcher.
"Our world is shaped by our sensory abilities that help us navigate our surroundings and by dissecting how this affects ageing, we can lay the groundwork for new ideas to improve our health," said senior author of the other study, Joy Alcedo.
Recent studies suggest that sensory perception may influence health-related characteristics such as athletic performance, type II diabetes, and ageing.
The two new studies, however, provide the first detailed look into the role of taste perception.
The research was published in the journal PNAS.