Nobel Prize Goes to Scent Researchers

Image courtesy of senseofsmell.org
American researchers Dr. Richard Axel (Columbia University, New York) and Linda B. Buck (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle) shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their work on the sense of smell, showing how, for example, a person can smell a lilac in the spring and recall it in the winter, reports Associated Press. Their work revealed a family of receptor proteins in the nose that recognize odors, and they illuminated how the odor information is transmitted to the brain.

Axel and Buck clarified the intricate biological pathway from the nose to the brain that lets people perceive and recognize smells. A whiff of an odor brings a mix of different molecules into the nose, where each molecule activates several odor receptors. The brain interprets this pattern of activation, letting people recognize and form memories of about 10,000 different odors, the Nobel Assembly said.

The sense of smell helps detect qualities people regard with an emotional tag and the smell of a single item activates a whole array of odorant receptors. The work could affect areas as diverse as psychology, to explain why scents often trigger memories, and cooking, because scent and taste are intimately connected.

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