Human Nose Can Distinguish a Trillion Scents

Human Nose Can Distinguish a Trillion Scents

The average human nose can distinguish more than a trillion different scents, which is multiples than more than the 10,000s that were first believed, according to a recently released report in Science magazine. Olfactory researcher Andreas Kelley, says that the research conducted by the team at the Rockefeller University in New York was done to investigate the limits of ability of the human nose as a sensory organ.

The experiments included preparations of scents with mixtures of up to 30 different components, that were all compose of 128 different smelling molecules. 26 participants in the study were asked to identify the one different scent in a sample set, where 3 samples would smell the same. The participants struggled to identify the unique scent when two scents contained more than half of the same mixtures, and with some statistical calculations, the authors estimated that the number of scents that the human nose can distinguish, if the mixtures were less than 51 percent will be equal to more than a trillion odors.

Other olfactory researchers are thrilled with the findings, and hope that it can lead the way to understanding how the brain and the nose work together in the olfactory system to process different scents.

There are approximately 400 different types of sensory receptors for scents in the nose, and some receptors are used to detect specific scents, in much the same manner, as different parts of the tongue is used to detect tastes, however, researchers have little details of the mechanism. It is believed that a more sensitive nose may have more scent receptors, but there is very little knowledge of how the sensors in the nose are organized, and there is still no definitive method to categorize different scents.

Kelly and researchers say that the challenge is categorize smells so that they can be placed in a categories, but it made difficult because scents are complex substances that consist of many different molecules. However, the findings of the research, can be used to dispel the myth that humans have a poor sense of smell and can eventually demonstrate the fact that the human nose can distinguish more than a trillion scents.

The limit of the human nose to distinguish different scents has long been cited to be about 10000 scents, but Leslie Vosshall, who leads the Laboratory of Behavior and Neurogenetics at Rockefeller University in New York, says that the research will contribute to revealing much of the mystery that surrounds exactly how the nose works.

Humans can distinguish millions of different colors, and hundreds of thousands of different sounds, and there was not much evidence to suggest that the ability to differentiate scents should be limited to as little as 10000, and the assumptions appear to be faulty.

The research involved both males and females of different ethic backgrounds and ages, and the 128 different molecules came from a wide range of scents that included concoctions of mixtures smelling like garlic, mint citrus tobacco and several others. The researchers hope that the fact that human nose can distinguish a trillion scents, will make people become much more appreciative of the power of the human being to differentiate scents, and that much more use is made of it, in much of the same way that sights and sounds are appreciated.

By Dale Davidson

Sources:

Daily News
Reuters
Nature

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