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Scientific research underlines importance of fragrance development

20-Dec-2006

Recent research has found that humans have a far more discerning and developed sense of smell than is readily perceived, findings that may point towards a greater emphasis for fragrances and perfumed personal care products.

According to joint scientific research carried out between the University of California, US, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Isreal, scientists have discovered that humans can follow scented trails in much the same way that dogs can - they just need to be trained to do so.

Scientific research has deduced that humans have fewer genes that encode smell receptors than many mammals. But the latest research, published in Nature.com and in research papers, suggests that humans are out of practice and that this more acute sense of smell can be developed through training.

As part of its research, the team of scientists, led by Noam Sobel, laid down a 10-metre long trail of chocolate essential oil in a grass field. The amount of essential oil used meant that the scent was just about detectable.

The researchers then enlisted the help of 32 blindfolded undergraduates to see if they were able to follow the scent trail using their sense of smell. Each student was given three chances to track the scent in the field, and two thirds of the students were able to complete the task.

However, further research found that a group of four students that practiced the task over the course of three further days became significantly better at completing the task - results that indicate that the sense of smell can be developed through training.

The study also considered how many times the students smelled the air whilst on the trail of the scent, deducing that humans act in much the same way as dog's, sniffing repeatedly to trace the source of a smell.

Gordon Shepard from the Yale University, US, suggests that the findings prove that, although humans have fewer odor receptors than dogs, they make up for this by having a beter ability to analyse scent information.

Huge steps have been made into unlocking the machinations of the human sense of smell in recent years, revealing many essential secrets that are now helping fragrance producers to take a more scientific approach towards the development of targeted scents.

The fact that the human olfactory system is more developed than many people have been led to believe, is turn likely to open the way to even more research and development into new fragrances and scents for personal care products.

A forerunner came earlier this year with the announcement by European scientists of a new nanobioscencor that is expected to help in the development of more targeted fragrances.

The sensor, developed by researchers in Spain, France and Italy with funding from the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) initiative uses nanotechnology to tailor smells according to product and consumer requirements.

"The potential uses of smell technology are endless," said Josep Samitier, the coordinator of the SPOT-NOSED project that developed nanobiosensors to mimic the way human and animal noses respond to different odors.

The researchers claim that the nose biosensor is capable of detecting odours at concentrations that would be imperceptible to the human nose.

This has been achieved by placing a layer of proteins that constitute the olfactory receptors in animal noses on a microelectrode. Data is then measured by determining the reaction when the proteins come into contact with different odorants.

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