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Creation 36(4):56, October 2014

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The human nose knows better than we thought



New research shows people are “surprisingly good” at telling smells apart.1,2,3

It had previously been thought, and often claimed in the scientific literature, that the human nose can discriminate between at most about 10,000 different aromas. However, this was based on a “crude estimate” made in about 1927—and it had never been empirically validated.

Rockefeller University researchers have now said, however, that the average person can distinguish between more than a trillion olfactory stimuli. This was based on their research where they presented volunteers with combinations of 30 chemicals drawn from a standard set of 128 diverse odorants.

“We have an amazing olfactory capacity that has not been appreciated,” said researcher Dr Leslie Vosshall, who also pointed out that the typical person’s nose has 400 kinds of olfactory receptors.4 “Our analysis shows that the human capacity for discriminating smells is much larger than anyone anticipated.”

Well, really it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. After all, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).5

Posted on homepage: 21 March 2016

References and notes

  1. Trillion-scented smorgasbord is everyday fare for our nose,New Scientist 221(2962):16, 29 March 2014. Return to text
  2. Bushdid, C., Magnasco, M., Vosshall, L., and Keller, A., Humans can discriminate more than 1 trillion olfactory stimuli, Science 343(6177):1370–1372, 2014. Return to text
  3. The human nose could detect at least one trillion odors, universityherald.com, 22 March 2014. Return to text
  4. Cf. the human eye which has three kinds of light receptors which work together to allow us to see up to 10 million colours. Return to text
  5. Indeed, the sense of smell seems to use the principles of advanced vibrational spectroscopy and quantum tunneling. Turin, L., A spectroscopic mechanism for primary olfactory reception, Chemical Senses 21:773–791, 1996; Sarfati, J., Olfactory design: smell and spectroscopy, Journal of Creation 12(2):137–138, 1998; creation.com/smell. Return to text

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