Scientists have implanted an artificial odor directly in the brains of mice. It doesn’t mean that mental Smell-O-Vision technology is coming soon. But the results, published June 18 in Science, deliver clues to how the brain processes information.
Details about the synthetic smell may help answer “fundamental questions in olfaction,” says computational biologist Saket Navlakha of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, who wasn’t involved in the study. Studies on the senses offer a window into how brains shape signals from the outside world into perceptions, and how those perceptions can guide behavior (SN: 7/18/19).
To build artificial smells in mice’s brains, researchers used optogenetics, a technique in which light prods genetically engineered nerve cells to fire signals (SN: 1/15/10). Neuroscientist Dima Rinberg of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and colleagues targeted nerve cells in mice’s olfactory bulbs. There, clusters of nerve endings called glomeruli organize the smell signals picked up in the nose.