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Stereo Smell

March 16, 2006

Although the latest home entertainment centers have amazing stereo systems, our own body’s built-in hearing and vision are pretty remarkable as well. Now, researchers have found that stereo can even extend to smell.


Hi-fi stereo nostrils. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The humble rat may not have hi-def plasma vision or Dolby digital hearing, but it does come with built-in stereo smell. This according to Raghav Rajan, a graduate student at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in India. His team showed that rats could find the direction of a smell in a fraction of a second, by comparing the smell’s intensity in each of its nostrils.

RAGHAV RAJAN (National Centre for Biological Sciences, India):
If they had just one nostril, then they would not be able to do this comparison quickly…

In fact, when one nostril was blocked, the rats scored no better than chance. The researchers also found that the rat’s individual brain cells respond differently to smells from its right or left side. They’re eager to find out if stereo smell works the same as the better-known stereo senses of sight and hearing. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.