Researchers have provided the first molecular view of a smell (or olfactory) receptor, deepening our understanding of how odors and smells work. And, this historic discovery could even help save us from deadly insects!
“It’s unequivocally a landmark paper,” says Bob Datta, a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School in the Unites States. “Although we’ve had access to receptors as molecules for a long time, no one’s ever actually seen with their eyes what it looks like when an odor binds to a receptor.”
The team of researchers, associated with Rockefeller University in New York, managed to confirm how animals identify and discriminate among impressive numbers of smells. Thanks to an imaging technique called cryo-electron microscopy, the team observed and compared the structures of the olfactory receptor in different situations, including when bound to the odor of an insect repellant. The findings could help us answer how to develop better repellents for insects such as the mosquito, known to carry a plethora of deadly diseases.