MCB faculty Venki Murthy was one of three Harvard researchers featured in this month’s Harvard Magazine cover story on the science of smell. COVID-19, which often causes a loss of sense of smell, has catapulted the olfactory sense into the research spotlight, the article argues.
In the story, Murthy discusses his research into olfaction in mice and other model organisms. He describes experiments where Murthy Lab researchers printed a scented “path” on a piece of paper, taped it to a tiny treadmill, and had mice follow the path using their noses.
He also explains his research into how mice identify one single smell out of a multitude. In the article, Harvard Magazine associate editor Lydialyle Gibson writes, “Mice offer clues: in a mixture of up to 16 smells, they are consistently able to identify whether a particular smell—say, banana—is present. One hypothesis is that animals somehow train their sense of smell; after all, sommeliers and coffee tasters manage a similar feat. Or the explanation could be more purely biological—in mice, the synapses of the olfactory cortex appear more plastic than in the visual cortex, Murthy says. ‘So maybe the brain does have this ability to rewire connections and make associations.’”