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Animals Better at Detecting Mixed Odorants

The environment is full of countless smells, sights and sounds that we can quickly detect and process. Animals secrete pheromones as communication signals and it is essential for survival that these can be rapidly identified. The olfactory system can discriminate between vast numbers of different odors. However, we do not fully understand the interactions between odorants and the odorant receptors. How we interpret and react to odors is still undetermined.

A recent study examined how olfactory receptors and brain structures detect and process odorants. A mathematical model of odor transduction was used that was also supported by the physiological recordings of the olfactory system of honey bees and fruit flies. The data suggests that animals are better at smelling a mixture of compounds rather than a single odorant. Surprisingly, mixed odorants are detected faster and are more reliably detected over a wider concentration range. This report indicates that the field of scent may have to change the focus from single to complex compound mixtures. This data could help develop better systems to improve food and cosmetic industries. Additionally, drug and explosive detection systems may also be improved for better health and safety.
For more information: https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006536

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