288 pages, 28 b/w illustrations
In humans, the perception of odours adds a fourth dimension to life, from the scent of flowers, the aroma of foods, and all the subtle smells in the environment. But how many types of odours can we distinguish? Why do we like the food we like? Which are the most powerful odorants, and how well does the human sense of smell perform compared with that of a dog or a butterfly?
The sense of smell is highly complex, and such complexity discouraged scientists for a long time, leaving the world of smell in an atmosphere of mystery. Only recently, thanks to the new tools furnished by molecular biology and neuroscience, are we beginning to answer these questions, uncovering the hidden secrets of our sense of smell, and decoding the language used by most animals to communicate. In On the Scent, Paolo Pelosi, one of the leading figures in the development of the science of olfaction, recounts how the chemical alphabet behind smell has been pieced together over the past three decades. Drawing on anecdotes from his own scientific career, and celebrating the rich variety of smells from herbs to flowers to roast coffee and freshly baked bread, he weaves together an engaging and remarkable account of the science behind the most elusive of our senses.
PART ONE - Smells and Molecules
1: Molecules in the air
2: Smells and molecules
3: A walk among smells
4: The olfactory code
PART TWO - Messengers of sex and danger
5: Fatal attraction
6: The smell of dominance
PART THREE - Proteins and Smells
7: Odorants meet the proteins
8: A family of versatile macromolecules
9: From odorants to emotions
PART FOUR - At the edge of the imagination
10: Science or magic?
11: Digital olfaction
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Paolo Pelosi is currently Visiting Professor at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) in Beijing, China. His research work has been dedicated to the study of olfaction and includes the use of organic conducting polymers as sensors for an electronic nose, in a study performed in collaboration with Krishna Persaud at the University of Manchester, UK. He has authored around 150 scientific publications and several book chapters.