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Modern Biology
Muscle Disease Gene Identified in Fish
Bird Flu Mutation Risk
Platelets Help Tackle Bacteria
Untangling The Model Muddle
Cloning - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Unpacking the Human Genome Project
Does a Hot Mint Still Taste Cold?
Do Bald Men get all the Girls?
Why Plants Make Caffeine
Turning your Brain into Blood - How Stem Cells Work
The Microchimera Mixture
Forgetful Flies - A tale of two halves (of the brain)
The Smelly World of Mice and Men!
How animals develop from an embryo
Ricin : The Secret Assassin
Why drink Wine ?
Genetically Modified (GM) Plants
Big Fish, Little Sea
Something in the Air
What's On The Menu ?
What is the purpose of sexual reproduction?
Therapeutic Cloning, and Stem Cell Research
What is Living in my Mouth?
Genes for Bigger Brains
  Something in the Air
We humans don't really appreciate the sense of smell.

Out of all of our special senses it is probably the one that we can most easily live without. In fact lots of people have lost their sense of smell for one reason or another, and yet relatively few of them complain about it to their doctor. They may have to keep more of an eye on the toast than usual and will have problems detecting gas leaks, but they live pretty normal lives. You can even imagine instances when it could be a positive advantage not to have a sense of smell, such travelling on a rush hour tube train or when changing a baby's nappy! However, we are something of an exception in the animal world where the sense of smell is often vital for survival. Smell helps in recognising food and whether it's good to eat before it gets anywhere near the taste receptors in the mouth. For instance young animals can develop a preference for the smell of food that has been eaten by their mother, even before they have been born. Similarly, rats can learn about whether a new food is good to eat by its smell on breath of other rats. The sense of smell is also used by many animals to track their prey, or to warn them about predators.

Some animals can use odours to navigate around their environment. For example, salmon learn the smell of the stream in which they grew up. When they come back, after spending two years at sea, they can recognise the smell so that they can find their way back to the same stream to breed. But probably the most important role of smell is in social communication. For instance, when a male mouse meets a novel female mouse, he will spend a long time sniffing her body, and especially her hind end. This not only tells him if she's ready to mate, but also by sniffing different females the male can chose to mate with those that are less genetically related to him.

Whereas the smell of a female silkmoth will attract males from over two kilometres away, this would obviously cause havoc if it occurred in humans! Human social interactions are just too complicated to be dictated by smells, and need more flexibility than the simple "come hither" signals used by many animals. Nevertheless, although smells are much less important for humans, we shouldn't underestimate them. The subtle influences they have over our behaviour are shown by the vast amounts we spend each year on perfumes, fragrances and flavourings - or is it just clever marketing?
Bigfoot: The Nitrogen Problem
A Traveller's Guide to Bed Bugs
A spider web's strength lies in more than its silk
Thai police bust Bangkok rare wildlife 'butchers'
Castaway lizards provide insight into elusive evolutionary process
Bouquet bargains trade off for life
18 endangered dolphins spotted off Borneo: WWF
Tiny primate 'talks' in ultrasound
Steroids control gas exchange in plants
Fossil cricket reveals Jurassic love song
Rhino dies after anti-poaching treatment in S.Africa
Lions adapt to winter at Canada safari park
Invasive alien predator causes rapid declines of European ladybirds
Not the black sheep of domestic animals
Coaxing a Shy Microbe to Stand Out in a Crowd
How the zebra got its stripes
Fruit flies drawn to the sweet smell of youth
FLORA AND FAUNA Genetic Rosetta Stone unveiled in Nature
Ultraviolet protection molecule in plants yields its secrets
Indian village relocated to protect tigers
Explosive evolution need not follow mass extinctions
Plants use circadian rhythms to prepare for battle with insects
Armenia culls wolves after cold snap attacks
The Developing Genome?
Tempur-Pedic Mattress Comparison
Chromosome analyses of prickly pear cacti reveal southern glacial refugia
Poachers slaughter hundreds of elephants in Cameroon
'Founder effect' observed for first time
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A Blue Future For Global Warming
Hitchhikers guide to Science
The Art of The Barbecue
Lost your bottle?
A Crossword a Day keeps the Doctor at Bay
Bio-plastics: Turning Wheat And Potatoes into Plastics
Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Brain Damage?
Protein Origami: Pop-up Books & Nature's Polymers
The Science of Parasites
Synthetic Biology: Making Life from Scratch
Flies are creatures of habit
What is Love?
How do plants develop?
What IQ Tests Can't Tell You
What is the Weirdest Experiment Ever?
Humble Honey Bee Helping National Security
Southern Right Whales
The Ocean's Cleaners
Barnacles "mussel" in
Food Date Coding Decoded
Photorhabdus luminescens: The Angel's Glow
Evolution Through the Looking Glass
I'm a Civet: Get me out of here!
No Smoke Detectors in the Sea