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Molecular odor-eaters.

Molecular odor-eaters

Any biologist with a nose for good mysteries can't help but wonder what kind of nasal receptors allow us to distinguish so many smells, and why animals can smell scents that are 1,000 times weaker than should be required to trigger a chemical response at a receptor. While searching for an answer to the first question, scientists at Johns Hopkins University think they may have stumbled onto the trail of the second. Solomon H. Snyder and colleagues were trying to isolate the smell receptor when they discovered a protein that seems to concentrate odor molecules by latching onto them as they enter the nose.

The oforant-binding proteins are manufactured in Steno's duct, which sprays a fine mist into the entranceway of the nose. For more than three centuries, physicians and others assumed this mist served only to humidify and warm the incoming air. But Snyder suggests that odorant-binding proteins dispersed in the mist may grab onto odor molecules and present them in concentrated form to the odor receptors in the nose. Those receptors then signal the brain that the odor molecules are present.

It is possible that an understanding of the mechanisms of smell would have direct applications to human health issues. Snyder points out that although no one has died directly from an inability to smell, people are endangered when they can't smell gas leaks in the house, and sufferers of chronic diseases or cancer often waste away because of a reduced appetite, partly due to a diminished sense of smell. Understanding how to bring back or enhance the sense of smell may alleviate such problems, Snyder says,
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Title Annotation:nasal receptor research
Author:Vaughan, Christopher
Publication:Science News
Date:May 28, 1988
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