Vapor Detection and Discrimination with a Panel of Odorant Receptors

Model diagram to show that the authors measured the amount of luminescence (glow) over time in the cells, and then they used the area under the curve (AUC) as the number they reported to determine response to the odorants.

Today I learned: that scientists have been trying to create artificial “noses”. Traditionally, dogs and other animals have been trained to identify specific smells like cancer, drugs, toxins, etc. But recent research is trying to design these artificial systems that could act as a way to screen for many odors at once. This groups of scientists used cells grown in the lab that have an olfactory receptor (OR) and proteins inside the cell that cause the cell to light up when an odorant (chemical that has a smell) is recognized by the OR. This works because in mammals, when an OR recognizes an odorant, that OR then becomes “activated” and transmits a signal into the cell. The cell then passes that message along to another cell, which passes it onto the area of the brain that processes these signals and tells us what we are smelling. They used seven odorants — ranging from those that smell like cloves to those that smell like banana — and tested them with many different ORs to see how much the cells lit up. With this they were able to identify specifically which ORs responded to which smells and how sensitively they could respond. This system can be used to help create systems that can discriminate between odorants, even if they look very similar in structure.

Reference: Kida, Hitoshi, et al. “Vapor Detection and Discrimination with a Panel of Odorant Receptors.” Nature Communications, vol. 9, no. 1, 2018, doi:10.1038/s41467-018-06806-w.

Blood Matters by Masha Gessen

front cover of Blood Matters by Masha Gessen with blue jeans and a white bedspread in the backgroundBlood Matters by Masha Gessen is what I imagine you would get if you were to immerse yourself in the inner monologue of a fact-obsessed individual’s decision-making process. The book opens with Gessen learning their mother has died of breast cancer, followed by a jump in time to Gessen getting a positive BRCA1 mutation test result. These two events set the tone for the book in which Gessen examines through the past and present lens how genetics, and our knowledge of our own genetics, has shaped how we view ourselves, the world, and our connections to each other. In doing so, Gessen lends a perspective not often seen in journalistic or scientific writing — the Jewish one. As readers, we get to learn about scientific concepts in the frame of Jewish history and anecdotes, as well as how these concepts and the ideologies born from them have reverberated through history. For me, Gessen’s need to know all the facts before making a life-changing medical decision was extremely relatable, and I think many others will find it easy to empathize with Gessen’s experience(s).

Continue reading…