In at least one type of endeavor, humans cant even begin to compete with their best friends. Dogs can be trained to sniff out drugs and explosives or to track down a crime suspect by smell. Why cant we do the same? Scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology propose an explanation for this ancient quandary.
All mammals, including humans, have about 1,000 genes encoding smell-detecting proteins, or olfactory receptors. These receptors, located in the mucous lining of the nose, identify scents by binding to molecules of odorous substances. However, not all olfactory receptor genes are functioning in all species. It is the percentage of the working olfactory genes that determines the sharpness of smell in animals and humans.
In previous studies, the team of Prof. Doron Lancet of the Weizmann Institutes Molecular Genetics Department discovered that more than half of these genes in humans contain a mutation that prevents them from working properly. In a new study, published in the March 18, 2003 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the scientists tackled the next question: is the genetic "loss" a relatively old phenomenon affecting all primates, or did it occurr only in humans?
Alex Smith | EurekAlert!
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