Human sense of smell resembles that of insects
Oct 2021, phys.org
Good, because we would really like to use insect antennae to better understand human olfaction. They're easier to do experiments on, because their system is more simple than ours in many ways. Also good because the fruit fly is where so much smell science comes from.
They modeled the brain of a cotton bollworm so they could inspect its operations, and found they're a pretty good match for humans (minus the phermomones, of course). This is good for helping us understand the inner-workings of a robust neural network, or should we call it the prototypical, the primordial neural network:
"We find striking similarities in the structure and function of the olfactory system across different organisms," says Xi Chu, a researcher in NTNU's Department of Psychology and senior author of the new publication. The similarities are probably related to the fact that the olfactory system is evolutionarily the oldest of all sensory systems. ... "It's worth noting that the primary olfactory center in the mammalian brain is located only one synapse away from the outside world," says Dr. Chu. "This means that the incoming information goes directly into the primary olfactory cortex, unlike all other sensory signals, which travel through a different brain structure before dispersing to their respective cortical areas. -Steinar Brandslet, medicalxpress
via Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Chemosensory Lab: Jonas Hansen Kymre et al, Distinct protocerebral neuropils associated with attractive and aversive female-produced odorants in the male moth brain, eLife (2021). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.65683
Image credit: Antenna of a male moth by Dr. Igor Siwanowicz at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Virginia for the 2015 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition [link]
Mapping the olfactory system in fruit flies
Feb 2022, phys.org
They describe the fly's olfactory system as having "the ability to make quick assessments of odors in an unusual way that circumvents synaptic communication, which is metabolically expensive."
They have created a map of receptors based on variations in the functionality of the molecules, but with one extra step -- the activation-inhibition dynamic at the neuron level.
This is a feature of the olfactory system that has been researched a lot lately (see this post for example). It also sounds like the model for neuromorphic processor systems, where the advanced processing via a dedicated cortex is eschewed for a complexity-based, emergent phenomenon at the neuron level.
via University of California - San Diego: Shiuan-Tze Wu et al, Valence opponency in peripheral olfactory processing, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2120134119
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