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Swarming insect provides clues to how the brain processes smells
Date:11/25/2013

ng cues in the odors we chose," Raman says. "Geraniol, which smells like rose to us, was an attractant to the locusts, but citral, which smells like lemon to us, is a repellant to them. This helped us identify principles that are common to the odor processing.

Raman has spent a decade learning how the human brain and olfactory system operate to process scent and odor signals. His research seeks to take inspiration from the biological olfactory system to develop a device for noninvasive chemical sensing. Such a device could be used in homeland security applications to detect volatile chemicals and in medical diagnostics, such as a device to test blood-alcohol level.

This study is the first in a series seeking to understand the principles of olfactory computation, Raman says.

"There is a precursory cue that could tell the brain there is a predator in the environment, and it has to predict what will happen next," Raman says. "We want to determine what kinds of computations have to be done to make those predictions."

In addition, the team is looking to answer other questions.

"Neural activity in the early processing centers does not terminate until you stop the odor pulse," he says. "If you have a lengthy pulse 5 or 10 seconds long what is the role of neural activity that persists throughout the stimulus duration and often even after you terminate the stimulus? What are the roles of the neural activity generated at different points in time, and how do they help the system adapt to the environment? Those questions are still not clear."


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Contact: Neil Schoenherr
nschoenherr@wustl.edu
314-935-5235
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert  

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