Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Who moved my cheese!?

21.10.2003


Researchers find that ’one sniff will do’ for odor discrimination



Rats inhabit a world of smells far beyond our poor powers to discriminate. Thousands of odors that smell the same to us, or that we cannot perceive at all, are quickly recognizable as distinct and meaningful odors to rodents and other animals in which the Nose Knows. But just how quick?

By measuring the speed of smell, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have now found that unlike humans, rats can tell two very similar odors apart with just one sniff. And because it’s not the Nose that Knows, but rather the brain, such studies of how animals can rapidly and accurately discriminate odors are revealing vital new information about how the human brain processes information, guides behavior, and even enables us to be consciously aware of our own (though less smelly) world, and our own selves.


"We are trying to understand how systems of neurons participate in the creation of perception, awareness, and behavior," says Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory neuroscientist Zach Mainen, who led the new study.

By exploring the neural mechanisms by which rodents use odors to guide their behavior, Mainen and his colleagues hope to uncover basic principles of brain function that will apply in many settings, including how our own brains work. But to get there, they needed to start out by measuring seemingly strange things such as how many sniffs a rat takes per second. The answer, according to the new study: about eight sniffs per second.

Believe it or not, the "eight sniffs per second" measurement has helped resolve a hotly debated issue in neuroscience. Researchers have previously suggested that the brain requires extra processing time to distinguish among the millions of different chemical signals that can be picked up by the nose. The new study, which appears in the November issue of Nature Neuroscience (advance online publication date: October 20), overturns this conventional wisdom that smell is a slow sense.

"We found that a rat gets a complete sense of an odor with each sniff. So the animal can reassess what it’s smelling quite rapidly, and alter its behavior accordingly. Therefore, compared with other forms of sensory perception, smell is a fast sense, not a slow one," says Mainen.

"Humans are far more attuned to the visual world, but the computations our brains carry out are probably not all that different than in rodents. The neural mechanisms that enable rodents to identify an odor in a single sniff are probably similar to those that help us take in an entire visual scene in a single glance. Moreover, the brains of both rats and humans display the same kind of rhythmic, information processing activity called a theta cycle, which controls many things."

Mainen and his colleagues are currently recording electrical signals from neurons in the brains of rats as they perform the odor discrimination task (see Background Information below). In this way, the researchers hope to learn more about information processing in the olfactory system, and to explore the neural basis of perception, decision-making, and other aspects of behavior.


###
Contact information for the Principle Investigator of the study:

Zach Mainen, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
e-mail: mainen@cshl.edu
tel: 516-367-8822

Peter Sherwood | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cshl.edu/public/SCIENCE/mainen.html

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed
18.01.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht 127 at one blow...
18.01.2017 | Stiftung Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Leibniz-Institut für Biodiversität der Tiere

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A big nano boost for solar cells

18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Glass's off-kilter harmonies

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>