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Bridging the Olfactory Code

By: Francesc Montejo, Inn Flavours
Posted: June 12, 2009, from the July 2009 issue of P&F magazine.

In 1969, John Amoore, an English biochemist, published a book titled Molecular Basis of Odor.1 In it, the author proposed the mechanisms involved in odor detection, from the moment an odorant reaches the olfactory epithelium to the construction of the sensory perception by the brain. Amoore offered the following visualization: a long span of bridge along which he placed a number of the different branches of science related to olfactory perception. On one end of the bridge he placed the chemistry of the olfactive stimulus. He set the physiology of sensory perception on the opposite end. At different points along the bridge’s length, Amoore placed a variety of other specialties, including volatile molecule analysis, molecular structure determination and biology. The author explained that the enormous spaces between these various points would be filled by scientific progress. Now, some 40 years later, one could say that the understanding of olfaction has nearly crossed this bridge. Yet the mechanism of primary olfactory reception, which is generally accepted by the international scientific community, remains a controversial point. The assumed model posits that an odorant is recognized by an olfactory receptor and represents one of the first steps across Amoore’s bridge to olfactory perception.

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