Saturday, March 5, 2011

Scientific American: Our Own Olfactory World

I have often believed that my nose could not detect some smells that permeate my environment. It started when my parents introduced me to the wonders, as they called it, of smelling wine. Try as hard as I might I could never smell any of the fruits that they did. And now, there is a scientifical explanation for this type of characteristic. It turns out that people differ in the way they perceive smells and there are even some odours that we will never have the pleasure of detecting. I witnessed this phenomenon many times throughout my life.

It seems that humans, during Darwin's evolutionary process, grew much more reliant upon hearing and seeing rather than smelling. Our genes that encode for the smell sense suffered many mutations, which accumulate to form pseudogenes. Different combinations of these pseudogenes result in a different olfactory experience for every human being.

This study made by geneticist, Drono Lancet of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science has a far wider set of implications than just a different olfactory sense.  The mechanism of mutations and their combinations in a person could one day prove to be helpful in analyzing polygenic diseases such as coronary heart disease and diabetes. And in the case of wine, let's just hope that I'll still be able to enjoy the pleasure of drinking such a beverage in the future without the smells that are contained in it.