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The nose knows?




(Photo Credit: researcher Andreas Keller (above) Rockefeller University)


The human nose might not seem so impressive when you’ve got lassie finding lost persons, bloodhounds hunting down criminals, and German Sheppard’s busting you for the coconuts you had to bring back from Costa Rica. With our few hundred scent receptors it’s hard to give our snouts any respect, until now.

A recent discovery has landed the human schnozzle some credibility, showing that our olfactory system can distinguish more than a trillion different odors. This is much more refined than what was previously believed.

Humans are capable of differentiating between 7.5 million various colors and about 340,000 different audible tones, but our rough calculations had our nose registering only about 10,000 distinctive scents.

That small estimate could never be completely validated through experiments however, because the olfactory system has been much harder to define than frequencies we hear, or the wavelengths our eyes pick up on.

To finally put our noses to the ultimate test, researchers conducted an experiment involving a couple dozen adults to differentiate between 128 various odor molecules.  They combined multiple scent molecules into mixtures with fluctuating proportions. This way they could track how much mixtures had to differ before the nose picked up on it.

The team then gave each participant three vials, and had them pick the odd one out all through smell.

On average they could distinguish between mixtures that contained a little over half of the same components.  Some participants even recognized concoctions with components overlapped by 90 percent.

Through this experiment the team concluded that human’s sense of smell is much more enhanced than what we can perceive with our eyes or ears.

How could we have missed such greatest when it was literally, right in front of our faces?


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