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 Researchers develop eco-friendly, 4-in-1 catalyst
25.04.2017 | Brown University

nachricht Transfecting cells gently – the LZH presents a GNOME prototype at the Labvolution 2017
25.04.2017 | Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V.

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's Fermi catches gamma-ray flashes from tropical storms

25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers invent process to make sustainable rubber, plastics

25.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Transfecting cells gently – the LZH presents a GNOME prototype at the Labvolution 2017

25.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>