DATABASES: Molecular Biology of Smells

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  03 Aug 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5531, pp. 767
DOI: 10.1126/science.293.5531.767c

Whether it's the perfume of lilac blossoms or the stench of old gym socks, a smell is a matter of chemistry. Odor molecules wafting through the air dock with olfactory receptors in your nose, triggering nerve impulses that the brain perceives as a smell. SenseLab, a site created by Yale neuroscientists studying the olfactory system and other neural pathways, offers five intertwined Web databases loaded with neural and smell info.

Trawl the olfactory receptors database for gene and amino acid sequences of more than 1600 receptors and related molecules, from species as varied as humans, carp, and koalas. These proteins belong to the G protein-coupled receptors—the largest family of genes in the human genome—and they pop up in some unexpected places, like the skin and the liver, says curator Chiquito Crasto. Users can also search the CellPropDB and NeuroDB databases to uncover the properties of neurons and their parts, such as the threadlike dendrites. Click on Purkinje cell, for example, a kind of neuron found in the cerebellum, and you'll get a list of the receptors studding that cell and the 13 neurotransmitters it emits, such as glycine and dopamine. Another section links to computer models for 11 neurons, and a fifth data bank stores scent molecule structures.

Navigate This Article