Is our nose a "quantum machine"? This question was asked in the title of the article we published in VIMAScience about 2 years ago, while in the subtitle the answer was "We do not know ours yet, but it is a fly anyway!". The article, which you can read here referred to the collaboration of the Greek neurobiologist Efthimios Skoulakis from the Biomedical Sciences Research Center "Alexandros Fleming" in Vari with the biophysical Luca Turin, then working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The collaboration was aimed at exploring how we smell. Yes, unlike sight and hearing, smell still remains the least studied sense today, and both partners sought to shed light on the paradoxes of smell.
Gaps in theory
You see, the prevailing theory of smell does not seem to be able to explain some observations. This theory calls for a mechanism similar to that of the key and the lock: the key substances reach and bind to the lock molecules located on the nipples of mammals or on the antennae of insects. The result of the binding is a change in the stereotype of the lock molecule, which triggers the sending of chemical signals to the brain to perceive, to record the arrival of the key substance.
This vision for olfactory function has no predictive capacity: one can not assume how it will smell a molecule only by its stereotyping. For example, replacing an oxygen molecule of ethanol, which has a vodka odor, from a sulfur molecule gives the ethanethiol which, although with a configuration very close to that of ethanol, has the unbearable scent of damaged eggs. Still, it is known that molecules have almost the same smell but their configuration is completely different (and therefore can not be a key to the same lock).
Working with Drosophila melanogaster (fly of the vinegar), the two associates showed two years ago that the insects perceive the odors from the oscillations of their molecules. However, as human olfactory receptors differ from those of insects, the two investigators wanted to investigate whether the same was true for us.
To do this, they sought the help of Vioryl, the only Greek perfume industry that has a large research team made up of mainly chemists. This group took one of the widely used molecules in perfumery, mask (musk) and modified it. In fact, he changed the hydrogen molecules with deuterium molecules (deuterium is the isotope of hydrogen). The change caused the muscular oscillations of the musk to change, but not its configuration.
According to the article by Greek researchers published in the PlosOne Review, the dect edition of the musk smells different from the normal. In other words, a person can stand out from one another.
Is our nose a quantum machine? Luca Turin knows that he takes time to change the old theories. But the latest findings may be enough to say that there is also a quantum component in human smell.