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Smells Dangerous
27 November 2016

Smells Dangerous

Milk, toothpaste, coffee, petrol, spices, flowers – all smells you may have recognised today. Each one releases a different set of chemicals into the air which trigger sensitive cells in the olfactory bulb (just behind the nose). Generally we recognise smells as a blend of signals from these cells, combined by the brain into a 'flowery' or 'toothpastey' smell. Pictured in bright colours in a mouse, cells in the olfactory necklace work differently. Each cell senses entire sets of smelly chemicals at once – and humans have them, too. Researchers think necklace cells respond to overall smells, saving the brain time in assembling the smell from other olfactory cells. Which smells might be this important, though? Perhaps those we associate with danger, or pheromones released by a potential mate – future studies in the brain will hopefully solve this smelly mystery.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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