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The ‘surprisingly simple’ arithmetic of smell

Smell it inside or outside; summer or winter; in a coffee shop with a scone; in a pizza parlor with pepperoni -- even at a pizza parlor with a scone! -- coffee smells like coffee.

Why don't other smells or different environmental factors "get in the way," so to speak, of the experience of smelling individual odors? Researchers at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis turned to their trusted research subject, the locust, to find out.

What they found was "surprisingly simple," according to Barani Raman, professor of biomedical engineering. Their results were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Raman and colleagues have been working with locusts for years, watching their brains and their behaviors related to smell in an attempt to engineer bomb-sniffing locusts. Along the way, they've made substantial gains when it comes to understanding the mechanisms at play when it comes to locusts' sense of smell.

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