“For years, scientists assumed that humans could detect some 10,000 different scents. A recent study from Rockefeller University, however, suggests that our noses are far more sensitive than we ever thought. By creating odor mixtures in which some smells overlapped, then asking volunteers to pick out which ones didn’t, researchers determined that we can actually detect more than 1trillion smells.
Monell scientists work tirelessly to crack the code of these scents. Trimmer and her colleagues are trying to figure out what odors light up which combinations of receptors and how genes influence that process. She says they know the receptor combos for at least 40 odors. Less than a trillion to go.
In the hallway outside Monell’s molecular biology lab, industrial-size refrigerators are packed with tiny tubes containing the DNA of different types of olfactory receptors. Inside the lab itself, wooden shelves and cabinets bear fragrant chemical concoctions meant to stimulate the cells.”