We perceive odors from the quantum oscillations of their molecules

I can not describe to you how happy I was driving a few days ago at the "Alexander Fleming" Research Institute in Vari. Not only was it a glittering sunny day, but it was the day that I would eventually become part of an experiment! In recent years, I have been writing about experiments that have been made by others, and in the past I have also done many experiments. But never that day I was not part of an experiment or if you preferred I did not have a test animal!
I imagine I have confused you. As if listening to you ask: "Why does one rejoice when one goes to become a guinea pig?". Let us first clarify that it is not a given that all experimental animals suffer. And, in my case, I had long been nominated for this role and I was delighted that my request had been accepted. You see, I wanted to be one of the first people on the planet to help unravel a great mystery: how we smell.
Think about it for a moment: man conquered Space, created computers with incomprehensible possibilities, healed illnesses that tallied him for centuries, but he still does not know how one of his five senses works. And can people tend to underestimate smell, in terms of sight or hearing, but we make a huge mistake. Remember this the next time a cold will deprive you of your smell for a few days: see how poorer your world is without odors. Not to say how much more dangerous it is, since one can not smell the smoke of a fire or a toxic substance.
Keys and locks
Those who closely follow the scientific developments will probably remember that 2004, two American researchers, Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering olfactory receptors and clarifying the organization of the olfactory system. As found by both partners, olfactory receptors are proteins installed in our specialized nerve epithelial cells. (The specificity of olfactory epithelial cells stems from the fact that each one carries a single type of olfactory receptor.) These cells perceive the odors and inform our brain about their presence by sending electrical charges initially to the olfactory lobe and to the continued to other areas.
However, while the electrical impulses from the nasal epithelium in the brain appear to be clear, so does the same with the first step of olfactory function, which has to do with the interaction of odors with olfactory receptors. The initial assumption was that their odors and receptors function like the key with the lock: any odor could "unlock" its corresponding receptor bound to it.
As appealing as this case is, somewhere lacks: "Scientific assumptions are correct when they have predictive competence" Luca Turin, a researcher at the Fleming Institute, said in BHMAScience. Indeed, if the smell of smells has a configuration that is complementary to the receptor, it actually explains the function of the smell, one should be able to predict how it would smell a substance if it knew its shape in space. Correspondingly, you would expect substances with similar shapes to have similar odors.
Vodka and… spoiled egg
But as those who research the function of smell know, the above does not apply. A very typical example is the pair of ethanol - ethanothiol, which are substances with very similar stereotypes and diametrically opposed odors. The first smells of vodka, while ethanethiol, which is nothing more than an ethanol in which the molecule of a hydrogen has been replaced by a molecule of sulfur, smells like a spoiled egg. A rotten egg also smells like a number of boron and hydrogen compounds, boranes, whose molecule bears no resemblance to ethanothiol.
All of this made Tourin, a biophysicist, skeptical about explaining the interaction of odors with their receptors. Tourin believed that British chemist Sir Malcolm Dyson was probably right, and 1937 had hypothesized how we perceived odors due to their molecular vibrations. Seeking ways to investigate this case experimentally, Tourin approached neurobiologist Efthimios Skoulaki of the Fleming Institute. Dr. Skoulakis and his colleagues explore the mechanism of memory and learning using the Drosophila melanogaster as a test animal and have developed techniques for the training of flies by means of olfactory signals.
The role of oscillations
Exactly two years ago the duo Skoulaki - Turin had shown that indeed the molecular vibrations of a molecule and not its stereotype is the way flies perceive odors. But they did not know if such a thing could apply to humans. "The olfactory cells of the flies are very different from ours and only the repetition of the experiment in humans could solve the mystery" said Luca Turin.
The experiment is simple to capture but somewhat more difficult to implement. A molecule whose hydrogens have been replaced by deuterium (hydrogen isotope) retains its configuration, but its molecular vibrations are different due to the different oscillations of the heavier deuterium. If the theory of Tourin really applies, the deuterium molecule should smell differently than the original molecule.
In order to be able to carry out this experimentation, the two partners asked for help from Vioryl, the only Greek perfume company that has a large research department. «Dimitris Georganakis from Vioryl and Kleio Maniatis who works in our lab built the high purity secondary mask molecules that we needed to investigate the correctness of our theory " said Luca Turin.
The mask and me
Masks are a group of molecules widely used in perfumery. The purification by gas chromatography of both normal and deuterated mask molecules, so as to ensure that volunteers would only smell the substance without any contamination, was of key importance for experimentation. So, as a good volunteer, I arrived at that bright breakfast in Vari, and I was eager to see the small laboratory bottles with two types of masks, the regular and the deuterium, arriving in a box.
The first bottle, which I do not know what it is, opens. I bring it to my nose and smell something unspecified, which resembles plastic. It's the plastic wrapping its lid. I have no idea how she smells the contents of the bottle. Researchers look at each other and smile. They give me the next bottle, nothing. They carry more than the lab. Nothing.
My career as a experimental animal ends before it even begins. As I tell you, I belong to 5% of the population who can not smell the masks! Luckily for the researchers, there is another 95%. As noted in their recently published article "PlosOne", other volunteers could distinguish normally from the mask's deuterium molecules.
The quantum component

Their finding means that the function of the human sense of smell also has a quantum component, as what the volunteers actually perceive is nothing more than the different molecular vibrations of molecules with different isotopes (hydrogen - deuterium). As for me, I finally have hopes to continue my career as a guinea pig: as the research team informed me, for the next phase of its experiments it needs people who can not smell the masks. As soon as I have news from the course of the experiments, I will inform you…

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