Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Smelling the forest – not the trees

12.12.2018

New study by the University of Konstanz: Animals are much better at smelling a complex “soup” of odorants rather than a single pure ingredient

As part of an international team, the University of Konstanz investigates how olfactory receptors and brain structures cope with mixtures and single odorants. At first, the researchers from the University of Konstanz in Germany, the University of Sussex in Great Britain, the Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina and the Arizona State University in the US expected that mixtures would mean complications.


As part of an international team, the University of Konstanz investigates how olfactory receptors and brain structures cope with mixtures and single odorants

Paul Szyszka

But it turned out there was no extra complications and in fact, it’s usually easier to smell mixtures than single odorants and the sensing is also slightly faster. “This wasn’t what we expected but this is what came out from our mathematical investigation”, says Dr Paul Szyszka, neurobiologist at the University of Konstanz. These findings have been published in the current edition of the scientific journal PloS Computational Biology.

The research team built a mathematical model of odor transduction, whose predictions are supported by physiological recordings of the olfactory system of fruit flies and honey bees. The actual result is that complex mixed odorants are detected more quickly and more reliably by olfactory receptors and can be identified over a wider concentration range than pure odorants.

This suggests that maybe our olfactory systems are not made to do this type of analytic smelling of pure compounds. Everything we take in from our environment is mixed smells, so it makes evolutionary sense that our olfactory systems would be better at those type of smells.

Similarly, animals secrete odorant mixtures as communication signals (pheromones), so it is vital that they can quickly and accurately identify these chemical signals and thus can decode the message they are being sent.

The new findings shed new light on the nature of the sense of smell and could help develop more sophisticated artificial systems that could eventually emulate the ability of sniffer dogs to detect drugs and explosives as well as improve food safety with devices that could detect the quality and ripeness of produce.

Professor Thomas Nowotny, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University of Sussex, believes these findings could have serious ramifications for scientists around the world studying the growing field of scent which largely has focussed on researching with single compounds.

Not only will the results expand our understanding of humans’ ability to smell, Thomas Nowotny thinks that the findings can also be expanded to other information transfer processes in the body such as cells’ detection of chemicals.

Next, the research team will look at the processing of scent information at receptors within the nose before reaching the brain which helps to distinguish between different smells.

Key facts:
• Original publication:
Ho Ka Chan, Fabian Hersperger, Emiliano Marachlian, Brian H Smith, Fernando Locatelli, Paul Szyszka, Thomas Nowotny: Odorant mixtures elicit less variable and faster responses than pure odorants.
https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006536
• Joint study by the University of Konstanz and the University of Sussex reveals that animals are much better at smelling a complex “soup” of odorants rather than a single pure ingredient
• Members of the joint research project are: University of Konstanz (Germany), University of Sussex (GB), Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Arizona State University (USA)
• The research project in Konstanz was funded by the Human Frontiers Science Program with around 340,000 dollars between 2015 and 2019.

Contact
University of Konstanz
Communications and Marketing
Phone: + 49 7531 88-3603
E-Mail: kum@uni-konstanz.de

- uni.kn

Originalpublikation:

Ho Ka Chan, Fabian Hersperger, Emiliano Marachlian, Brian H Smith, Fernando Locatelli, Paul Szyszka, Thomas Nowotny: Odorant mixtures elicit less variable and faster responses than pure odorants.
https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006536

Julia Wandt | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rising water temperatures could endanger the mating of many fish species
03.07.2020 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Moss protein corrects genetic defects of other plants
03.07.2020 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

Im Focus: Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant

Quasi-continuous power exhaust developed as a wall-friendly method on ASDEX Upgrade

A promising operating mode for the plasma of a future power plant has been developed at the ASDEX Upgrade fusion device at Max Planck Institute for Plasma...

Im Focus: ILA Goes Digital – Automation & Production Technology for Adaptable Aircraft Production

Live event – July 1, 2020 - 11:00 to 11:45 (CET)
"Automation in Aerospace Industry @ Fraunhofer IFAM"

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM l Stade is presenting its forward-looking R&D portfolio for the first time at...

Im Focus: AI monitoring of laser welding processes - X-ray vision and eavesdropping ensure quality

With an X-ray experiment at the European Synchrotron ESRF in Grenoble (France), Empa researchers were able to demonstrate how well their real-time acoustic monitoring of laser weld seams works. With almost 90 percent reliability, they detected the formation of unwanted pores that impair the quality of weld seams. Thanks to a special evaluation method based on artificial intelligence (AI), the detection process is completed in just 70 milliseconds.

Laser welding is a process suitable for joining metals and thermoplastics. It has become particularly well established in highly automated production, for...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium AWK'21 will take place on June 10 and 11, 2021

07.04.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rising water temperatures could endanger the mating of many fish species

03.07.2020 | Life Sciences

Risk of infection with COVID-19 from singing: First results of aerosol study with the Bavarian Radio Chorus

03.07.2020 | Studies and Analyses

Efficient, Economical and Aesthetic: Researchers Build Electrodes from Leaves

03.07.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>