A Multifaceted Sensation


The delicate fragrance of jasmine is a delight to the senses. The sweet scent is popular in teas, perfumes and potpourri. But take a whiff of the concentrated essential oil, and the pleasant aroma becomes almost cloying. Indeed, part of the flower’s smell comes from the compound skatole, a prominent component of fecal odor.

Our sense of smell is clearly a complex process; it involves hundreds of different odorant receptors working in concert. The more an odor stimulates a particular neuron, the more electrical signals that neuron sends to the brain. But researchers at UC Santa Barbara discovered that these neurons actually fall silent when an odor rises above a certain threshold. Remarkably, this was integral to how the brain recognized each smell. “It’s a feature; it’s not a bug,” said Matthieu Louis(link is external), an associate professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.

News Date: 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023