Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Nose Knows

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Nose Knows

Article excerpt

Brain scientist professor Thomas Nowotny was surprised to find that the "nose" of fruit flies can identify odors from illicit drugs and explosive substances almost as accurately as wine odor, which naturally attracts the insects because it smells like their favorite food, fermenting fruit.

The study, published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, brings scientists closer to developing electronic noses (e-noses) that closely replicate the sensitive olfactory sense of animals and work more quickly than current technology.

"Dogs can smell drugs, and people have trained bees to detect explosives," says Nowotny, professor of Informatics at the University of Sussex in England. "Here we are looking more for what it is in the nose--which receptors--that allows animals to do this.

"In looking at fruit flies, we have found that, contrary to our expectation, unfamiliar odors, such as from explosives, were not only recognised but broadly recognised with the same accuracy as odors more relevant to a fly's behavior."

Professor Nowotny and his collaborators recorded how 20 different receptor neurons in fruit flies responded to an ecologically relevant set of 36 chemicals related to wine and an ecologically irrelevant set of 35 chemicals related to hazardous materials, such as those found in drugs, combustion products, and the headspace of explosives.

By monitoring the "firing rate" of each neuron, they were able to assess which smells elicited the strongest reactions from the flies. …

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