Sunday, January 09, 2005

"A Nose For Science: Buck, '75, Wins Nobel for Decoding Genetics of Smell." University of Washington (Seattle), Alumni Magazine, Columns. December 2004.

Linda Buck (U of W class of 1975) shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Richard Axel of Columbia University.

She discovered a family of 1,000 different genes that give rise to an equivalent number of olfactory receptors. These receptors are located in cells residing in a small area of the upper part of the lining of the nose. The brain uses these 1,000 receptors to detect 10,000 different odors in much the same way as we form words with letters of the alphabet. That is, different combinations of receptors activated together give rise to perception of different smells.

Among other projected applications of this work, Buck notes that her research might help decode the mechanisms behind the triggering of appetite or emotional states (such as fear) by particular smells.