Our noses are better at distinguishing smells than we ever knew. A lot better.

In fact, we may be able to detect as many as a trillion different odors, according to a new study published this week. That’s orders of magnitude more than earlier estimates of nasal intelligence.

The study marks the first time that the human sense of smell has been put through a rigorous scientific test, says Leslie Vosshall, a researcher at Rockefeller University in New York City.

A 1920s study concluded that people could smell roughly 10,000 different odors, but that estimate wasn’t backed by data, says Vosshall, co-author of the study published March 20 in the journal Science.

Still, that decades-old figure remained unchanged until now, likely giving rise to a scientific under-appreciation of our nose’s capabilities.

National Geographic spoke via email to study co-authorAndreas Keller, a researcher in Vosshall’s laboratory at Rockefeller University, about the new research, whether there’s a universal “good” smell, and if scientists might find evidence for “supersmellers.”… see more

source: national geographic