Brain selective about retaining key smells out of thousands

February 8th, 2010 - 4:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Feb 8 (IANS) Every single moment the brain is forced to process thousands of separate odours from the world around us. Through a new study of honeybees, scientists have discovered the brain has an advanced ability to isolate specific odours and recollect smells.
“There is a lot of information coming into the brain whenever a scent is detected and it would be difficult to process it all,” says Judith Reinhard, who led the study at the University of Queensland (UQ) Brain Institute.

“We have found that honeybees pick only a handful of so-called ‘key odorants’ out of every complex aroma that they really learn. They may remember just two or three odorants from a couple of hundred, the rest are ignored,” says Reinhard.

Charles Claudianos, Reinhard’s colleague said if you had to learn the hundreds of compounds your brain would be overwhelmed with information.

“By choosing the key odorants, you can function more effectively without being swamped,” says Claudianos.

The research, has also allowed the scientists to explore how the learning of odours affects molecules that have been linked to autism and schizophrenia.

During their studies, the researchers found that the honeybee brain responds to sensory experience, says an UQ release.

“The honeybee brain - like the human brain - adapts to its sensory environment by adjusting the expression of these molecules,” says Claudianos.

Reinhard said the findings could also have an enormous impact on farming. Using the honeybee’s capacity to extract key odorants, scientists will be able to isolate these odorants from the complex aromas of crops. They can then use the key odorants to train honeybees to pollinate specific crops.

These findings were published in the latest edition of PLoS ONE.

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