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We Can Sniff More Than Trillion Smells

Update Date: Mar 21, 2014 11:30 AM EDT

Your nose knows more than you might expect. 

Human nose can differentiate an almost infinite number of smells, according to a new research. 

Researchers based their findings on extrapolation of findings in laboratory experiments where volunteers sniffed a relatively large collection of odor mixtures. 

"The single most important contribution of this research is that it revises this current idea that humans are terrible smellers," said Leslie Vosshall, who heads the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior at Rockefeller University in New York according to Reuters.

"We're very good smellers," Vosshall added.

Researchers said just like sights and sounds people are familiar with myriad of smells like perfume, body odor, rose blossom, beer, rotten egg, paint, cut grass, spoiled milk, fresh popcorn, dog breath, burning wood, ammonia, grilled meat, orange peel, pine, excrement, cinnamon, exhaust fumes, cookies and skunk spray.

In the previous researches, it was established that humans had a tendency to distinguish  several million different colors and about 340,000 audio tones but the limit of smelling sense remained untouched for long.

Researchers said that according to notions since the 1920s, people could discern only about 10,000 odors but it was based on faulty assumptions. 

As subjects, around 25 men and women of various racial and ethnic groups between ages 20 and 48 were considered. They were given three glass vials of scent each time which comprised two identical to one another and third different. 

"In general, I would say they had unfamiliar smells that were neither very pleasant nor very unpleasant. I thought 'fresh garbage' is a good descriptor," said Andreas Keller, a researcher in Vosshall's lab who led the study, according to Reuters

"I think that we evolved to discriminate very similar odors: Food - and the same food with the slightest hint of being spoiled - can be the difference between a nutritious meal and food poisoning," Keller added.

The research has been published in the journal Science

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