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Literature Review: The Debate over Rational Odor Design

By: Manuel Zarzo
Posted: March 21, 2007, from the April 2007 issue of P&F magazine.

The scientific community has been skeptical of this mechanism, which relies on the assumption that olfactory receptors are metalloproteins, a hypothesis that has not received much attention but which deserves further investigation.


Turin began collecting perfumes as a hobby in the 1980s. His ability to precisely describe scents enabled him to write his renowned Parfums: Le Guide (1992), which became the best-selling perfume guide in France and granted him access to the secretive big fragrance corporations. With this insight into the perfume business, he learned that the creation of a new odorous molecule is a tedious and costly endeavor, highly reliant on experimental trial and error. Driven by an impulsive curiosity, Turin decided to devote his research activity to unraveling the fundamentals of olfaction, resulting in a controversial theory. Details about how this theory was devised and the problems he faced in putting it forward to the scientific community are outlined in Chandler Burr’s well-known 2003 book The Emperor of Scent

In The Secret of Scent, Turin outlines the steps involved in the creation of new perfumes, illustrating the technology, science and art behind every fragrance found on the market. Next, he outlines fragrance chemistry and describes the complex relationships between molecular structure and odor for the most relevant odor classes in perfumery. Finally, he provides a detailed look at the relevant theories of olfaction that in recent decades have attempted to interpret odor character.

Origins of Debate