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Nose divides sweet from foul

Segregation of scent detectors suggests innate preferences

12:10am, September 26, 2011

Even the inside of the nose can be a little cliquish. Like birds of a feather, nasal molecules that respond to pleasant smells flock together, keeping their distance from sensor molecules that pick up unpleasant smells.

Sensor molecules, or receptors, appear to be organized according to the pleasantness (or unpleasantness) of the odors they sense, a new study finds. For example, locations in the nose that respond strongly to one fragrant aroma will respond strongly to other delectable smells. Patches of nasal surfaces that process putrid stenches also handle specific sorts of smells and leave the rest of the work to someone else, Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel and colleagues reported online September 25 in Nature Neuroscience.

The researchers inserted an electrode into 16 subjects’ noses and then showered the volunteers with six different scents. Because certain odors provoked stronger responses at different locatio

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