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While the tongue has thousands of taste buds to measure the four primary tastes — salty, sour, sweet, and bitter — the olfactory receptor cells at the top of the nasal cavity measure the odors that provide you with the sumptuous (or not so sumptuous) flavors associated with certain foods. The sense of smell is actually responsible for about 75 percent of what is typically thought of as the sense of taste. So if your nasal passage is blocked by mucus that keeps you sniffling and sneezing, your olfactory receptor cells aren't being visited by those odors. This leaves everything tasting pretty much the same.
Odorants stimulate receptor proteins found on hairlike cilia at the tips of the sensory cells, a process that initiates a neural response. An odorant acts on more than one receptor, but does so to varying degrees. Similarly, a single receptor interacts with more than one different odorant, though also to varying degrees. Therefore, each odorant has its own pattern of activity, which is set up in the sensory neurons. This pattern of activity is then sent to the olfactory bulb, where other neurons are activated to form a spatial map of the odor. Neural activity created by this stimulation passes to the primary olfactory cortex at the back of the underside, or orbital, part of the frontal lobe. Olfactory information then passes to adjacent parts of the orbital cortex, where the combination of odor and taste information helps create the perception of flavor.
Study Bolsters Quantum Vibration Scent Theory
Yet here's a twist: odorant molecules typically contain many hydrogen atoms. And hydrogen comes in multiple forms, each very chemically similar to the others. But those different isotopes of hydrogen do strongly affect how a molecule vibrates. So deuterium, containing a hydrogen nucleus that has both a proton and a neutron (as opposed to plain-old-hydrogen that has just a proton), might help scientists discriminate between the proposed vibration and standard chemical binding theories of olfaction.
According to new research published today in PLoS ONE, human noses can sniff out the presence of at least some kinds of deuterium. Specifically, experimenters found regular musk molecules smelled different from ones that contain deuterium. "Deuterated" musks, says researcher Luca Turin of the Alexander Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Center in Greece, lose much of their musky odor and instead contain overtones of burnt candle wax.
The finding represents a victory for the vibration theory, Turin says. And, he adds, it makes some sense, when you consider the purpose of our olfactory ability—whatever its mechanism is. The natural world contains millions of types of molecules. Some are good for us, and some are bad. The nose helps to distinguish one from the other. "Olfaction is trying to be like an analytical chemist," Turin says. "It's trying to identify unknowns." Chemists identify unknowns using spectrometers. Olfactory receptors, according to the vibration theory, act like little wetware spectrometers.
Adding to Turin's quiver is a 2011 finding in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicating that drosophila flies, too, can smell the difference between a molecule called acetophenone (which to humans smells sweet) and its deuterated cousin.
Otherwise, why bother with having to choose between pancakes or waffles?
Definitely not. I can prove it with this logic:
My mother things rye bread tastes sour. Whereas to me it tastes like grain and a little nutty, if its light. So do we even taste the same thing?
So there's simple dramatic proof of one gene's effect on smell, and I'm sure there are many much more subtle genetic differences. So we definitely don't all have the same sense of smell, therefore we don't all have the same sense of taste because the two are closely related.
Only those with a certain gene can break down the chemicals inside the asparagus into their smelly components, and only those with the proper gene can smell the results of that chemical breakdown. What's more, the two abilities aren't always embodied in one person. That is, those who produce it, can't always smell it, and those who can smell it don't necessarily produce it.