Distinguished Professor Neuroscience and Biology and Director of the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste
Our sense of smell is vital to our well being. It is a major component of our sense of taste; it can readily evoke deep-founded memories (your grandfather's attic!); it can protect us from danger (smell of burning, rancid smells); or it can affect our mood (perfumes and aroma therapy). For the most part, however, we take our sense of smell for granted and only really appreciate it when we lose it, most commonly when we have a cold. For some people, however, the loss of the sense of smell is more permanent since it can occur after some head injuries, from prescriptive medicines taken for other disorders and, occasionally, during the first stages of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
The intriguing thing about our sense of smell is how it works. How does our nose take a bunch of chemicals floating in the air we breathe and turn them into a signal our brain tells us is "pizza"?
What if . . . we knew all
the molecules that the smell receptors in our noses need to detect an odor
and translate it into a signal the brain can understand? Knowing this could
help those with temporary loss of smell (anosmia) or, in the case for those
with congenital anosmia, identify important molecules that could be targeted
in the future by gene therapies. It could also lead to the development
of artificial "noses" that could be used as sensors for commercial
and threat-detection purposes.
Barry Ache obtained a B.S. in biology at Albright College and an M.S. in behavior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He earned his Ph.D. in behavioral physiology at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Department of Biological Sciences.