Flies reveal that a sense of smell, like a melody, depends upon timing

April 10, 2013 by Bill Hathaway
Flies reveal that a sense of smell, like a melody, depends upon timing
Credit: Srinivas Gorur-Shandilya

(Medical Xpress)—The sense of smell remains a mystery in many respects. Fragrance companies, for instance, know it is crucial that chemical compounds in perfumes reach nostrils at different rates to create the desired sensory experience, but it is has been unclear why. Yale researchers decided to interrogate the common fruit fly for answers.

The team of Yale scientist Thierry Emonet, his postdoctoral associate Carlotta Martelli, and his colleague John Carlson systematically recorded both the stimulus reaching the fly and the responses of individual neurons over time. They found that the timing of neuronal response was independent of the concentration of the odor in the air, which in theory might help flies track fluctuating odor stimuli. However, the timing of neuronal response did depend on the identity of the odor.

Different odors elicited tiny delays in . Such odor-dependent delays could be useful to the brain processing complex scents, say the scientists. The research also shows that specific interactions between odors and surfaces can affect the timing of the stimulus and therefore neural response.

Emonet says the findings suggest the world of smell is like music, in which of the scent act as notes and enable recognition of specific odors depending upon when they are played, or processed. For more information on the research, see the April 9 issue of the journal Neuroscience.

Explore further: Researcher finds elderly lose ability to distinguish between odors

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Neuro chip records brain cell activity

October 26, 2016

Brain functions are controlled by millions of brain cells. However, in order to understand how the brain controls functions, such as simple reflexes or learning and memory, we must be able to record the activity of large ...

After blindness, the adult brain can learn to see again

October 25, 2016

More than 40 million people worldwide are blind, and many of them reach this condition after many years of slow and progressive retinal degeneration. The development of sophisticated prostheses or new light-responsive elements, ...

The current state of psychobiotics

October 25, 2016

Now that we know that gut bacteria can speak to the brain—in ways that affect our mood, our appetite, and even our circadian rhythms—the next challenge for scientists is to control this communication. The science of psychobiotics, ...

Can a brain-computer interface convert your thoughts to text?

October 25, 2016

Ever wonder what it would be like if a device could decode your thoughts into actual speech or written words? While this might enhance the capabilities of already existing speech interfaces with devices, it could be a potential ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 10, 2013
Q: If the hypothesis is correct then there should be equivalencies, depending on how odorants are sensed - if by resonance per Luca Turin's work then molecules having half or twice (or some other factor of two) of the mass or charge of another should smell "the same" in some regard... that is, there'll be "pitch classes" of odorant properties.

Smells are waveforms coursing through the olfactory bulb and cortex.. it's ALL timing info...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.