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Science  20 Oct 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5491, pp. 403
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5491.403a

For a rose, it's degraded carotenoids; for wine and beer, it's esters; for bacon, phenolics from roasted wood. Those are just a few of the chemicals that underlie the science of smells, formally known as olfaction.

A great place to sniff out smell lore is a site created by organic chemist John Leffingwell, who heads a company in Canton, Georgia, that sells databases of odor and flavor chemicals. Scroll past the blurbs about food and perfume industry news to Special Features to learn about topics from tobacco to saffron. Especially good is the review of olfaction, which covers everything from the anatomy of olfactory organs to receptor proteins to new research on how our brain senses so many smells: It uses a combinatorial approach, in which a few receptors mixed in various ways can detect a wide range of odors.

Other features include rotating molecular models of odor chemicals. And in the links section, Leffingwell runs down the Web's best olfaction offerings. You can reach a phytochemicals database, for example, or read up on the vomeronasal organ, the sensor that animals—and possibly humans—use to sniff out potential mates.

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