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Science is perception: what can our sense of smell tell us about ourselves and the world around us?

Brookes, J. C.; (2010) Science is perception: what can our sense of smell tell us about ourselves and the world around us? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences , 368 (1924) pp. 3491-3502. 10.1098/rsta.2010.0117. Green open access

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Abstract

Human sensory processes are well understood: hearing, seeing, perhaps even tasting and touch—but we do not understand smell—the elusive sense. That is, for the others we know what stimuli causes what response, and why and how. These fundamental questions are not answered within the sphere of smell science; we do not know what it is about a molecule that … smells. I report, here, the status quo theories for olfaction, highlighting what we do not know, and explaining why dismissing the perception of the input as ‘too subjective’ acts as a roadblock not conducive to scientific inquiry. I outline the current and new theory that conjectures a mechanism for signal transduction based on quantum mechanical phenomena, dubbed the ‘swipe card’, which is perhaps controversial but feasible. I show that such lines of thinking may answer some questions, or at least pose the right questions. Most importantly, I draw links and comparisons as to how better understanding of how small (10’s of atoms) molecules can interact so specially with large (10 000’s of atoms) proteins in a way that is so integral to healthy living. Repercussions of this work are not just important in understanding a basic scientific tool used by us all, but often taken for granted, it is also a step closer to understanding generic mechanisms between drug and receptor, for example.

Type: Article
Title: Science is perception: what can our sense of smell tell us about ourselves and the world around us?
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0117
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2010.0117
Language: English
Additional information: Article published by The Royal Society under EXiS Open Choice and reproduced here under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons 2.5 license, for more information see: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/
Keywords: Signal transduction, swipe card, olfaction, olfactory receptor, odorant, electron tunnelling
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > London Centre for Nanotechnology
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/20384
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