James Bower joins us for a special journal club session where he discusses olfactory processing.
Since Lucretius published his epic poem, De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) in 66 BC, philosophical and scientific thinking about the sense of smell has been built on the assumption that the olfactory system detects odours through a process of classification based on analytical chemical structures. Somewhat similarly, starting with Linnaeus in the mid 18th century, various efforts have been made to regularize odour perception by identifying different scales or perceptual groupings. For the last 100 years many attempts have been made to correlate chemical characteristics believed important to detection to these classification schemes for perception. All have failed. This talk will describe the origins and implications of the alternative view that the olfactory system, both detection and perception is organized around the biological significance of an odorant molecule rather than its strict chemical form. Evidence in support will be presented from a range of approaches from human psychophysics to receptor ligand binding studies to neuronal modelling. The talk will also consider the possible implications for the function of cerebral cortex as a whole, given the likely olfactory origin of the cerebral cortical processing algorithm.