A wide range of scientific challenges spawns a surge in basic research for this once unacclaimed discipline
Most researchers long believed that the sense of smell was genetically determined and, therefore, unchangeable. But at least one scientist--Charles Wysocki of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia--doubted this theory. Wysocki, a psychobiologist who investigates the genetics of olfaction in the 45 percent of the adult population who can't detect androstenone, a component in sweat, repeatedly gave one subject a bottle of the odorant to smell in an experiment two years ago. For weeks the patient insisted he couldn't smell anything. But one day, given the same compound in the same amount, he responded, "You must have switched the bottles. How did you get the smell of Newark in the bottle?" For Wysocki, the distinctive aroma of Newark prompted a breakthrough.

Two articles in Nature and Science that address fine points of...

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