The Nose Knows More than Originally Thought


noseWhile most of us realize that there are different smells that we are familiar with, both good and bad, a new study has shown that humans are capable of distinguishing at least 1 trillion different odors. This number is exponentially greater than the largest guestimate of 10,000. The results of the study was printed in a number of science articles after molecular neurobiologist Leslie Vosshall of the Rockefeller University performed the study, which  proved the number was a much larger one than believed.

The study was performed using a procedure much like that used in a test to measure hearing. Twenty-six participants were used in the study, with each receiving three vials, two with the same scent, with the task of determining which of the three was not like the others. These tests were repeated hundreds of times on each participant, using the assumption that each subject would have similar performances at recognizing the smells. This was how they came to the determination that the average human should have the ability to distinguish a minimum of 1 trillion odors. Soon after their discovery, the study results were published online in Science News.

Avery Gilbert, an olfactory expert who was independent of the study, explained that the original estimate of 10,000 smells being the average capability of humans was based on a 1927 manuscript written by two American chemists. They used four primary smells, including fragrant, acid, burnt and caprylic, with the idea that any scent could be created using these basic building blocks. The new study, on the other hand, proves that smell is “an incredibly rich, variable, and nuanced medium.”
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