A controversial theory that the way we smell involves a quantum physics effect has received a boost, following experiments with human subjects.
It challenges the notion that our sense of smell depends only on the shapes of molecules we sniff in the air.
Instead, it suggests that the molecules’ vibrations are responsible.
A way to test it is with two molecules of the same shape, but with different vibrations. A report in PLOS ONE shows that humans can distinguish the two.
Tantalisingly, the idea hints at quantum effects occurring in biological systems - an idea that is itself driving a new field of science, as the BBC feature article Are birds hijacking quantum physics? points out.
But the theory - first put forward by Luca Turin, now of the Fleming Biomedical Research Sciences Centre in Greece - remains contested and divisive.
The idea that molecules’ shapes are the only link to their smell is well entrenched, but Dr Turin said there were holes in the idea.
He gave the example of molecules that include sulphur and hydrogen atoms bonded together - they may take a wide range of shapes, but all of them smell of rotten eggs.
"If you look from the [traditional] standpoint... it’s really hard to explain," Dr Turin told BBC News.
"If you look from the standpoint of an alternative theory - that what determines the smell of a molecule is the vibrations - the sulphur-hydrogen mystery becomes absolutely clear."
Molecules can be viewed as a collection of atoms on springs, so the atoms can move relative to one another. Energy of just the right frequency - a quantum - can cause the "springs" to vibrate, and in a 1996 paper in Chemical Senses Dr Turin said it was these vibrations that explained smell.
The mechanism, he added, was "inelastic electron tunnelling": in the presence of a specific "smelly" molecule, an electron within a smell receptor in your nose can "jump" - or tunnel - across it and dump a quantum of energy into one of the molecule’s bonds - setting the "spring" vibrating.
But the established smell science community has from the start argued that there is little proof of this.
Chess-playing computers may cause the robot apocalypse 2014 04 23
Sore-loser chess programs might be the end of us all...
In the movie The Terminator, we heard the human side of the story of Judgment Day, with the machines getting smart and seeing us as a threat. It wasn’t until the sequel that we heard the tale from the machine’s point of view, as it chose to start World War III ...
Archeologists’ findings may prove Rome a century older than thought 2014 04 23
It is already known as the eternal city, and if new archeological findings prove correct Rome may turn out to be even more so than believed until now.
Next week, the city will celebrate its official, 2,767th birthday. According to a tradition going back to classic times, the brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city on 21 April in the year ...
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe 2014 04 23
A Swedish MP who launched an official government investigation into the existence of chemtrails tells The Local why he thinks Swedes deserve the truth, even if it may leave some conspiracy theorists unsatisfied.
"I can’t speak for other MPs, but I’ve had many, many calls over the past eight years about chemtrails. And these questions are not so easy to answer," ...
Mystery of Bizarre Duck-Like Ocean Sound 2014 04 23 If it quacks like a duck... it’s not always a duck.
Scientists have reportedly gotten to the bottom of the mysterious ’Bio-Duck’ sound in the Antarctic.
Here’s a recording of the strange sound (it’s kind of a stretch to say it sounds like a duck, but who are we to second guess the biologists?).
Mystery of Bizarre Duck-Like Ocean Sound Solved
By Tanya Lewis ...
’Extreme’ Carbon Dioxide Reduction will be a Death Sentence for Humanity & Planet Earth 2014 04 23 If we allow a fraudulent pseudo-environmentalist cult to control every aspect of our lives then our children are doomed to a totalitarian existence which Stalin could only have dreamed of.
“The common enemy of humanity is man.
In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine ...