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What Smells?

Scientists don't understand exactly how we identify the many odors we smell every day. Biologists have found evidence that while we may not be consciously aware of it, people can sniff out the chemical signals of sexual attraction. Aromatherapists say that they can create a bubble bath that improves memory, a kitchen cleaner that wards off nausea and gives us energy, and a scented handkerchief that can calm a claustrophobic patient who has to have an MRI.

BBC News reports that a team of US scientists has discovered a whole new class of receptors lining the inside of the nose that are used by mice (which are more like us that we may want to admit) to detect pheromones, the sex hormone scents that are released by their mates. These are also found in humans.

When an odor reaches a receptor in our nose, it sends a signal is sent to a processing center in the brain, which identifies it as a specific smell. Mammals, such as mice and men, have as many as 1,000 of these odor receptors in their noses.

But we don't have as many odor receptors as there are smells in the world, so scientists think that several of these receptors must work in combination for us to identify complex smells. It still is not known how the brain deals with all this information so that we can identify odors, but we do know that a familiar smell can bring up memories of people and events that have been long forgotten.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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