Year in review: The nose knows a trillion odors | Science News

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Year in review: The nose knows a trillion odors

Scent tests show precision of human olfactory power

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3:00pm, December 15, 2014
nose

THE NOSE KNOWS Humans can suss out more than 1 trillion different smells, a 2014 study estimated.

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In the movie Roxanne, Steve Martin plays a lovesick guy who mocks his own huge schnoz by declaring: “It’s not the size of a nose that’s important. It’s what’s in it that matters.” Scientists demonstrated the surprising truth behind that joke this year: People can whiff an average of more than 1 trillion different odors, regardless of nose size (SN: 4/19/14, p. 6).

No one had systematically probed how many scents people can actually tell apart. So a team led by Leslie Vosshall of Rockefeller University in New

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