Of the five senses, smell is the least understood. Now, the National Science Foundation has awarded 6.4 million dollars to an interdisciplinary team of scientists to crack the olfactory code and unravel how humans and animals navigate using smell. Psychologist Lucia Jacobs of the University of California, Berkeley explains that animals are experts at converting odors into spatial information.
"Itâ€™s a very simple question. There is an odor out there and itâ€™s being carried by the wind. How do you find it? There is no, right now, model of how animals can do this. It seems like an impossible problem. However, we know that animals from the size of ants to probably elephant, they all are able to orient to odors being carried on the wind even far, far away."
Jacobs is part of a diverse team of seven researchers who received the grant, including mathematicians and cell neuroscientists. They will create various computational and mathematical models of odor navigation.
"So, Iâ€™m very excited to be doing this as a team. I think thatâ€™s just going to be transformational."
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