Q&A: How Can Our Noses Smell a Trillion Different Odor Mixtures?
A new study finds that human noses can smell over a trillion different odor mixtures.
The study marks the first time that the human sense of smell has been put through a rigorous scientific test, says Leslie Vosshall, a researcher at Rockefeller University in New York City.
A 1920s study concluded that people could smell roughly 10,000 different odors, but that estimate wasn't backed by data, says Vosshall, co-author of the study published March 20 in the journal Science.
Still, that decades-old figure remained unchanged until now, likely giving rise to a scientific under-appreciation of our nose's capabilities. (See "We Can Distinguish Between At Least A Trillion Smells.")
National Geographic spoke via email to study co-author Andreas Keller, a researcher in Vosshall's laboratory at Rockefeller University, about the