A team of geneticists led by Casey Trimmer has carried out a curious study with 332 volunteers who were asked to rate almost 70 aromas, many of which were components of common food additives and aromas.
The researchers also tested the limits of detection of subjects, general olfactory acuity and sensitivity to various concentrations of a specific odor.
By comparing the participants' qualifications with their DNA, Trimmer and his colleagues were able to identify individuals whose receptors functioned differently and thus evaluate how these mutations affected odor perception. Surprisingly, the team found that a variation in a single receiver was acute enough to influence odor sensitivity.
The androstenone, a compound found in men's sweat, offers a key example of the premise of the new study: alternatively perceived as "very unpleasant and intense", neutral and vaguely similar to vanilla, or similar nothing at all, expected that androstenone was an outlier, by tracking its differences in smell in a single receptor.
The human nose contains about 400 olfactory receptors, or specialized sensory proteins primarily related to smell, but believed to be capable of performing other less known functions. A single odor molecule can activate multiple olfactory receptors; At the same time, several types of molecules can activate a single receptor.
By examining how variation in an olfactory receptor gene changes the perception of smell, we can begin to understand the function of each receiver. This, in turn, will help us learn how the receivers work together to be able to decipher the olfactory code.
Image | Mr Moss