The Ability of Smell: a Virtue that You Can Train

Little was known about how we (humans) smell and taste until the early 1990’s when groundbreaking research revealed that humans have less than 1000 (maybe as many as 950) discrete odor receptor sites residing in the olfactory epithelium and of those many were non-functional, essentially vestigial, with only about 300 being “active” sites.  Why so many of the sites were non-functional has been explained many ways most of which have to do with our diminished need to have an acute sense of smell to alert us to danger as human society developed and we became more gatherers than hunters (and less hunted).  Interestingly, the case can be made that the genesis of our sense of smell was the very earliest detection biology found in single-cell life wherein exogenous chemicals were frequently hostile if not lethal to that life and the very detection of these chemical threats and “avoidance” of them was critical to the organism’s survival.
If we “practice” smelling different odor types and learn to discriminate and “learn” them it is possible as humans for us to be able to smell and differentiate among thousands of discrete odors.  Some few scent experts have trained themselves to be able to identify many tens of thousands of discrete odors.  When their experience is correlated with the chemical structures of these ingredients and the olfaction-to-chemical-structure relationship is learned an ability to objectively identify and characterize new, never before available odiferous chemicals is not only possible but has been observed on multiple occasions.
The obvious questions are – HOW can we smell so many discrete smells with only 300 functioning discrete receptor sites and HOW can some (few) individuals reproducibly differentiate among 100,000 discrete smells accurately?  The answers are still not know for sure but scientific study is revealing that even with lesser numbers of discrete receptor sites it is possible for some individual humans to do the seemingly impossible.
For many of us the smell and taste of a fine wine or a rich, aged brandy are examples of our entry into this olfactory description world.  When you recognize that our characterization of these odors, at best, only number in the hundreds you can appreciate how much more there is to experience in our mostly unknown olfactory world.
Written by Jerry Bertrand
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4 thoughts on “The Ability of Smell: a Virtue that You Can Train

  1. “Little was known” is somewhat inaccurate. Georg ovn Bekesy, who mainly worked on the sense of hearing, also did detailed experiments on olfaction back in the ’50s and ’60s, and his work has been forgotten. Among other things, Bekesy found out that the nose is “binaural”. We can tell which direction a smell is coming from! But we don’t use or train our nose in the same way we train our eyes, so this ability goes unused.

    Scientific article:
    http://jap.physiology.org/content/19/3/369.abstract

  2. Do you have a projected date as to when you will have units available to purchase? Your company was founded April 2010 but you still have no units available. This is starting to sound like a lot of hype with no product. I apologize for being so direct but I have heard this before with other companies in the past. What’s the facts? Thanks James

    • Hi James,

      Thanks for getting in touch. We appreciate your comment and I am sure many other people are wondering the same thing! I can safely say it’s not a lot of hype but, a long process. From the inception, we’ve been working hard to complete all of the necessary projects to reach product launch. Some of the projects we have been working on include, developing the technology and software applications, IP protection, product design, and product testing.

      One of the most exciting projects we have been working on is broadening our offering to a “Scent Platform”. This expands our company’s vision and alters the big picture. It will make Scent Sciences responsible for creating the industry standard API and application suite. Also, we have been working on integrating our technology into consumer products, automotive applications and other displays. So the ScentScape is just one facet of the big picture (although a VERY exciting facet!).

      We showcased development units at shows such as CES, ScentWorld, Stanford’s Cool Product Expo and Turner Broadcasting Future Technology Expo. At these events, we received positive feedback and excitement about the product. Please check back about the next Expo we are attending, we would love to see you there and give you a demo!

      We appreciate your patience and enthusiasm for our product. Our goal is to make sure that once the ScentScape reaches the market, it will be one of the most innovative products consumers have ever experienced.

      Best wishes,
      Heather

      • OK thanks. No, you don’t have a projected date of when units will be available for purchase. Got it. James

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