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Nobel prizes: The sweet smell of success

Olfactory genes, subatomic particles, and the molecular kiss of death

12:19pm, October 6, 2004

Physiology or Medicine

In recognition of more than a decade of pioneering exploration of the sense of smell, two Americans received the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Oct. 4. The researchers, Richard Axel of Columbia University and Linda Buck of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, will share the nearly $1.4 million prize.

The award largely honors the pair's close collaboration on a paper published in Cell in 1991 and their continuing independent efforts. Before the paper appeared, scientists knew little about the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the olfactory system, which transmits information on odorant molecules from the nose to the brain. Anatomical studies had shown that olfactory neurons project hairlike cilia into the nasal cavity. However, researchers were unable to pinpoint olfactory receptors on these cilia or explain

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