Washington: Just as wine or tea tasters have to focus certain senses, animals too fine-tune the sense of smell as part of their survival tactics, new research has found.
Sniffing helps animals detect predators and food. "But there are many chemicals in the smells they detect, so detecting the one that might be from a predator or an explosive, for instance, is a complex process," said Leslie Kay, director of the Institute for Mind & Biology, University of Chicago, as quoted in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Kay conducted the study with Daniel Rojas-Libano, post-doctoral scholar at the University of Chile in Santiago, who received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2011. They drew from two ideas proposed by other scholars to test whether animals can focus their sense of smell.
The two found that the nose can act like a gas chromatograph (device that separates chemicals in complex blends like flower scents), absorbing substances for different times, depending on how readily they interact with the water-based mucus on the sensory receptors in the nose.
The other finding crucial to the current work was the discovery that changes in the airflow rates of scents entering the nose can change which odours the nose readily detects. Different parts of the nose have different airflows, and classes of receptors suited to detecting specific odours.
Even before the publication of the study, there were hypotheses about animals and their sense of smell that could not be tested. What is significant is that the researchers were among the first to develop a test to be able to carry out experiments, Kay explained.