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How Does a Machine Smell? Better Than It Did

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Can a computer do this?

A new chemical sensor platform purportedly can smell more accurately than humans.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil/public domain

Researchers from the University of Manchester and the University of Bari in Italy have developed a chemical sensor platform that can smell more accurately than humans.

The team incorporated odorant binding proteins, found in the mucus of the nose, into field-effect transistors. The proteins work with olfactory receptors and help create a person's perception of smell.

The researchers report they were able to measure the unique changes in current as the proteins reacted to odor and record them, which they say is equivalent to the machine smelling the odor.

The project marks the first time machines were able to differentiate smells that are very similar, such as chiral molecules. Moreover, the scientists have found a way to manufacture the proteins in quantities that would enable them to be used in biosensors.

"Now we have done this it will allow much better sensors to be developed and these could have many uses in industry," says Manchester professor Krishna Persaud. "We shall be able to create biosensors which are accurate enough to be able to tell when food has gone off, or even smell how much pollution is in the atmosphere."

From University of Manchester
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