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Rats Smell... in Stereo
Rats zero in on a whiff of banana oil and other scents with the help of a stereo processing system that takes in differences in smell intensity and the time that the smell arrives in each nostril, a process that is similar to the stereo processing of sounds, reports Science.
In the olfactory bulb of the rat brain, 90 percent of the neurons respond differently to smells coming from the left and right sides of the rat, Raghav Rajan and colleagues from India discovered. The researchers trained rats to lick different water spouts after taking a quick sniff of their surroundings to indicate whether a piped-in scent came from their right or left sides. The rats usually needed only one sniff, processed in 50 milliseconds, to determine the direction of the smell.
For rats, Rajan and colleagues say, “each sniff is a perceptually complete snapshot of the olfactory world, including both odor identity and stereo-based location.”
2 February 2006