Science of smells

Researchers, in Italy and the USA, have used animal studies to work out how the brain understands odours.

The findings, published in the journal Science, show that by activating a specific pattern of nerve endings in mice brains, they can make mice smell scents that don’t exist in the real world.

A team from the NYU Langone Health’s Neuroscience Institute, and Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia and the University of Trento, stimulated the sense of smell in genetically engineered mice whose brain cells were activated by shining light on them – a technique called optogenetics.

“This study is a beautiful example of the use of synthetic stimuli to probe the workings of the brain in a way that is just not possible currently with natural stimuli,” said Venkatesh Murthy of Harvard University, who was not involved with the study.

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