Stories tagged smells

Dec
28
2007

A cute little squirrel: Oh, my God, is that blood on its mouth?
A cute little squirrel: Oh, my God, is that blood on its mouth?Courtesy prairiedog
In the age-old, squirrel/rattlesnake battle of wits, another play has been made by the squirrels, one so devious that I dread the day that the tree rats use it against humanity.

Members of the same lab that discovered that squirrels are able to heat their tails (see the link above) have recently observed ground squirrels and rock squirrels chewing up discarded rattle snake skins, and then smearing it on their fur to mask their own squirrelly scent.

Juvenile squirrels and females appear to use the technique most often, being more vulnerable to snake attacks than adult males (or bull squirrels, as I call them - creatures that are not to be taken lightly).

The discovery just goes to show, once again, that squirrels are among the most resourceful, and fastest-adapting creatures. Hot tails today, tomorrow… guns? Still, I think squirrel guns are the least of our worries right now – as I said before, what if they turn this technique against us, their human overlords? What if they began chewing off our skin and turning it into disguises? We wouldn’t know who to trust! The hunter would become the hunted! It would be like that scene in Predator, where Arnold covered himself in mud to hide himself from the Predator’s heat vision.

This is really horrible news.

I need to go lie down.

Sep
16
2007

It's like a big angel food cake, running right at you: If you've got the right combination of genes.  (photo by castle79 on flickr.com)
It's like a big angel food cake, running right at you: If you've got the right combination of genes. (photo by castle79 on flickr.com)
Picture a big mug of some hot, vanilla flavored beverage. Think about how it smells…
Now do the same for a big, hot mug of urine. Now hold that thought.

Androstenone is a testosterone derivative produced in our bodies, and found in our urine and sweat. It is partially responsible for the less than charming smell of these fluids, as it smells like, well, urine and b.o. But it only smells like urine and b.o. to some people – to others it smells a lot like vanilla, and to others still, it smells like nothing at all.

Recently, scientists think they have isolated the gene that determines how people perceive the odor of androstenone. A group of four hundred people were presented with 66 different odors at two concentrations, and asked to evaluate the pleasantness and intensity of each odor. Blood samples were then taken from each participant for genetic testing. The study found that whether a person found androstenone foul or pleasant depended on the combination of “two point mutations called single nucleotide polymorphisms” along a particular odorant receptor gene. Isn’t that something? So, whether a junior high locker room smells like a bakery or an adolescent nightmare all depends the luck of the genetic draw (although I’m not sure that either option is all that great).

Some mammals use androstenone to pass on social and sexual messages. It’s possible that it played some similar role in humans, although, if this is the case, scientists can’t explain why so many people simply lack the ability to smell androstenone at all.

A fun fact: males produce much more androstenone than females. Sorry ladies, but there are some things that we men just do better than you, like producing really stinky chemicals.

Jun
29
2006

Nose: Courtesy Wikipedia Images
Nose: Courtesy Wikipedia Images

Have you ever wanted to record a smell?

Well, today is your day. Engineers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan are constructing an odor recorder. The gadget is able to recreate smells by analyzing an odor then reproducing the specific smell from a host of non-toxic chemicals.

Other companies have tried to produce “aroma generators” but have had limited smell range. Basically, previous gadgets have utilized pre-prepared odors yielding a limited smell range. However, the odor gadget being created by the Tokyo team actually records and later produces a smell. Pambuk Somboon of the Tokyo team stated, “In video, you just need to record shades or red, green and blue. But humans have 347 olfactory sensors, so we need a lot of source chemicals.”

Fifteen chemical-sensing microchips or electric noses are used to detect large smell ranges. Collected odors then create a digital recipe from a smorgasbord of 96 chemicals according to the purpose of each gadget. Reconstruction of the smell occurs when drops of relevant vials are mixed, heated and vaporized.

Results so far have demonstrated success. Researchers have reproduced the smells of oranges, lemons, apples, bananas and melons. Even a differentiation between green apples and red apples has been achieved.

What smells would you want to reproduce?