Poor human olfaction is a 19th-century myth

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Science  12 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6338, eaam7263
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7263


  • The human and rodent olfactory systems exploring the sensory world together.
  • Fig. 1 Gross anatomy of the olfactory bulbs of human and mouse.

    (A) Ventral aspect of human brain, with meninges removed from the cortex. Area indicated by dotted rectangle is enlarged in (B). (B) View of left and right olfactory bulbs and olfactory tracts from (A). (C) Ventral aspect of mouse brain, with olfactory bulbs visible at the top. Up is anterior in all three panels. Dashed lines denote the approximate border between bulb and tract.

  • Fig. 2 Comparison of the mouse and human olfactory bulb.

    View is of the ventral aspect of the left olfactory bulb. Both bulbs are at the same scale.

  • Fig. 3 Comparison of olfactory bulb neuronal numbers across mammalian species.

    The number of putative neurons per olfactory bulb for each species, as measured by isotropic fractionation. Numbers are drawn from Ribeiro et al. (48) and Oliveira-Pinto et al. (50).

  • Fig. 4 Comparison of human olfactory thresholds across species and odorants.

    Comparison of detection thresholds (expressed as vapor-phase dilutions in log parts per million) across species, where more negative threshold values indicate lower thresholds and thus greater olfactory sensitivity. Shading indicates odors for which humans outperformed all other species tested. (A) Detection thresholds for human subjects (triangles), spider monkeys (squares), and mice (circles) to each of six different thresholds as measured in the Laska laboratory as part of the same experiment. Data shown are from five individual mice and spider monkeys; the triangles show the range and mean of thresholds from 12 individual subjects. All 12 humans outperformed all mice and monkeys tested for the odorant 3-mercapto-3-methylbutyl-formate and outperformed all mice for 2-propyl thietane. [Adapted from Sarrafchi et al. (78) and used by permission] (B) Pooled olfactory threshold values across species and laboratories for aliphatic carboxylic acids. Humans are more sensitive to n-pentanoic acid and n-octanoic acid than all other species tested. [Adapted from Can Güven and Laska (77) and used by permission]

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