The science of odour

by Sierra Parisian

Our sense of smell is not always something that is given as much credit as many of our other classical senses. The study of olfaction is however have provided fascinating insights into both how smells work and how we, or more specifically our brain, works.We are not constantly aware of how much our olfactory system works in our daily lives. It might seem like a very small part of our lives, at first glance. But, in fact, 5 percent of our entire DNA is actually devoted to olfaction. If smell wasn’t as important to us as many would believe, the amount of our DNA devoted to this single function would most likely have been lower because of simple natural selection.In the back of our nose, we have millions of sensory neurons that lie in a narrow strip of soft tissue called the olfactory epithelium. On the tips of the cells in that area are proteins that bind odour molecules. These proteins are called receptors and functions sort of like a lock, which can be unlocked by odour molecules. One receptor can however be open by many different types of molecules, and each molecule can open different types of receptors. They do, however, react with varying strength depending on which molecule binds to which receptor. It is this complexity that allow us to detect a vast variety of odours, and what we call a single smell, like the scent of a rose, is actually a combination of many different types of molecules interacting with several different receptors.Our sense of smell enables us to not only smell the roses, but an incredible variety of both pleasant and foul odours. And everyone can probably remember when something they smelled recently had a significant effect on them. Some people can also be so unfortunate that they have an inability to get used to smells, which can have a serious impact on their ability to function in a number of situations.We are all sensitive to smells in varying degrees. The act of providing agreeable conditions to work and live in are, in part, credited to advances in odour removal technology and practices. This is a consideration that many places have to take, but it is a very serious issue in many different types of industries.