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Top Story

Locusts help uncover the mysteries of smell

Understanding how a sensory input becomes an experience -- how molecules released by a blooming flower, for instance, become the internal experience of smelling a rose -- has for millennia been a central question of philosophy. In more recent times, it has also been a question for scientists. One way to approach it is to understand the physical brain processes behind sensory experiences. Historically, scientists have proposed different ways to describe what is happening by positing that a certain set of neurons must fire; a certain sequence of firing that must occur; or a combination of the two. In a recently published paper, National Science Foundation-funded researchers found that in locusts, only a subset of neurons associated with a particular scent would fire when that scent was presented in a dynamic environment that included other scents. Although there was not a one-to-one relationship between a pattern of neurons activated and a specific smell, the researchers were able to determine how the locusts could still recognize a scent; it comes down to the locust being flexible in its interpretation.

Visit Website | Image credit: Barani Raman/Washington University in St. Louis