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Biotech Medicine

Scientists Closer To Creating Artificial Noses 99

Posted by samzenpus
from the can-you-smell-me-now dept.
Scientists at MIT have moved closer to being able to create an artificial nose after finding a way to mass-produce smell receptors. The MIT RealNose project seeks to recreate the most complex and least-understood of the five senses: smell. The team plans to work with researchers around the world to develop a portable microfluidic device that can identify various smells, including diseases with unique odors, such as diabetes and certain cancers.
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Scientists Closer To Creating Artificial Noses

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  • by webheaded (997188) on Wednesday October 01, 2008 @08:00PM (#25226885) Homepage
    And to think I was hoping to come in here to see an article about Michael Jackson...
  • Interesting (Score:2, Funny)

    by Moderator (189749)

    So this adds an interesting twist on the old "I've got your nose" gag.

  • by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday October 01, 2008 @08:06PM (#25226945)

    the most complex and least-understood of the five senses, smell

    And here I thought it was "smision".

  • In the future, the RealNose team plan to ... identify various smells, including diseases with distinctive odors such as diabetes and lung, bladder and skin cancers.

    I don't know what that smells like, but I think I'll stay with my own nose, thanks.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Smelling these are pretty much useless, but I wouldn't at all mind being able to smell contagious diseases like the flu, which will give me a good warning to stay away from that person. I'd rather feel crappy for a few seconds than for a few days.

      Just like feeling pain - it may be annoying, but in most cases you are going to be better off than if you didn't feel its early warning.

    • by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 01, 2008 @09:07PM (#25227627)

      Sort of related, I have no sense of smell, at all. I was probably close on 20 years old before that fact actually sunk in. I thought it was a sense that people learned to use, like learning to read and write, that I would figure it all out some time later in life. Not to be.

      From a perspective of never having known smell, the idea of being able to do so is intriguing. At the very least it would mean I could definitively know whether I need to spend more on deodorant or less :-)

      Oddly enough, I have had dreams where I can smell perfectly fine, I don't know how this state of mind compares with the real world experience though.

      • You're lucky. I'm a girl, and depending on what time of month it is, my sense of smell goes from pretty dull to excruciatingly sensitive.

        I say excruciating, because I have the misfortune of being a biochemistry major that takes a couple of engineering classes. You have no idea how bad it is to be in a physics lab for three hours with a bunch of hygiene challenged college boys. My physics building is pretty old too, and I swear there are generations of funk built up in that stuffy little room. Think moldy
        • by Macgrrl (762836)

          I see your lab and raise you public transport in the summer.

          Or even working for a sales organisation where some of the sales guys are just a little too fond of aftershave - I can smell them across the building some days. Bleah.

          And they think it's attractive?

          • by TheLink (130905)
            "where some of the sales guys are just a little too fond of aftershave "

            They might be hygiene challenged college boys who became sales guys :).
          • And they think it's attractive?

            It's probably a lot better than the alternative...

      • out of curiousity: does this lack of smell extend to your sense of taste as well? I'm no bioligist but I think I read somewhere that the two are very closely tied, which is why if something tastes horrible blocking your nose and chewing makes it far easier to swallow.
        • by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 01, 2008 @10:12PM (#25228153)

          I'm quite positive it has made a huge difference to the way food tastes.

          I can tell the difference between sweet, sour, and salty. If food doesn't fit into one of those categories then it doesn't have any taste, texture becomes far more important in that circumstance.

          The end result is that people place me in the 'fussy' category.

          Does holding my nose make any difference? None at all. :-)

          I'm guessing a little, but I think when people have a cold they are pretty much experiencing what I do every day.

          • by Cragen (697038)
            My wife's mother had a major stroke about 5 years ago. (She was around 60 at the time.) She was actually given last rites (a Catholic ritual for the about-to-be-dead) after a life-flight between hospitals. Upshot of it all is that she is 98% recovered, mentally and physically. The only neurological area of her brain that seems to have been permanently affect is her sense of smell. Completely gone. Cannot sense, by smell, if meat is bad, only that it is hot, cold, or in-between. She used to enjoy cooking. No
      • by dasunt (249686)

        I'm another slashdotter with no sense of smell. Didn't realize it until late in my teens. I thought that changes in humidty and other factors were what people meant by "smell".

        I hear you on the deodorant issue. I have no idea if I have bad BO or not, or if I stepped in dog crap, or if the leftovers in my fridge went bad or not.

        I wouldn't mind a replacement nose.

        • by johannesg (664142)

          I used to have a sense of smell, but I lost it after ~20 years of having a blocked nose. Now I've had surgery so the blockage is gone, but the sense of smell seems to be gone forever.

          Frustratingly, once in a long while I suddenly *do* smell things - just for a second, and then it disappears again. These are almost always smells that I associate with specific childhood situations (like the smell of the house of a friend where I used to play).

          My sense of taste seems to be working fine, although I cannot compa

      • by SL Baur (19540)

        Sort of related, I have no sense of smell, at all. I was probably close on 20 years old before that fact actually sunk in.

        None, at all? I have a weak sense of smell as judged by criticisms of an ex-wife, but I can still smell things if they're strong enough. The time my dog delighted himself in rolling around a field fertilized by something very close to pure crap and I carried him home[1] to get him cleaned up, I knew he stunk, but my ex-wife burned the clothes I had been wearing and I ended up bathing 3 or 4 times before she was satisfied.

        I have a relatively weak sense of taste too. A real break through will be when someo

      • From my understanding smell is like taste. They say that by holding your nose, you couldn't tell the difference between an onion and an apple (besides the textures) although I have not tested this, I just remember learning it in school.

        Curious question: do you have a sense of taste too? Do people say you have an "odd" sense of taste?

        Although there are times where something smells bad but tastes good... and obviously vice versa, but most the time it seems to be: smells good, tastes good. But I believe th
        • From my understanding smell is like taste. They say that by holding your nose, you couldn't tell the difference between an onion and an apple ...

          Not true: vapors from the food will pass up the back of the throat and trigger the smell receptors anyway. But, the dead taste of things when you have a bad cold is true, since nasal tissue swelling prevents access to the smell receptors.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        No sense of smell at all? Very interesting. I have a question for you: can you detect noxious substances or fumes, such as paint thinner, gasoline, etc.?

        My sense of smell isn't very acute, but it is very useful being able to detect things like that, since these vapors are after all very poisonous, and dangerous to breathe in in any quantity.

      • I've lost most of mine over the past 30 years, probably due to a long string of allergy medications, including sprays. Sometimes it's not just anosmia, though, sometimes I get pseudonosmia, though, where I smell things that aren't there. It's really fun explaining to your wife and kids that the reason daddy isn't eating and is sitting there looking ready to toss his cookies has nothing to do with the fabulous dinner mommy just made, but with the smell of old ashtrays that is overpowering daddy's trashed o
      • Same here, I was into my teens before it truly sunk in and I accepted it. I mean, how do you notice an absence of something, specifically if it doesn't impede anything you do.

        I've read other accounts where people don't really realize it until they're older, either because they never had it.

        Being a young kid was no help. Face it, as a young kid the only time a "smell" comes up is when someone would pass gas. And all of the kids' reactions wouldn't start until the first person would blurt out "oh my God wh

  • by loftwyr (36717) on Wednesday October 01, 2008 @08:10PM (#25226999)

    Most people don't realize just how important the olfactory senses are. They're responsible for taste, not just smell and people should be careful that they don't assume the new technology can replace it.

    In short: you only get one nose, don't blow it.

    • by c_forq (924234)
      I always hear this, but it always baffles me. I have almost no sense of smell. I can smell, but it has to be a very powerful oder, or practically in my nose. When people ask "Do you smell that?" my answer is, more often than not, "No". However I have a very keen sense of taste. What gives?
      • Maybe your sense of taste isn't as keen as you think it is.
        • by c_forq (924234)
          I've considered that, but my sense of taste seems to be better than almost all my peers (all of which have a better sense of smell than me). When younger I attributed it to that (possibly false) idea that if one sense is dampened the others senses are stronger. However I think it could be that my palette is more discriminating of texture, but that still strikes me as a far fetch.
          • by pnutjam (523990)
            Sounds like someone is a supertaster [wikipedia.org].
            • by c_forq (924234)
              Thanks a ton for pointing me to that wiki page. I dislike everything listed for problem foods (with the exception of a few alcoholic beverages), and now will have to look more into this. Thanks again!
              • by pnutjam (523990)
                My wife is a super-taster. She says this is an easy test:

                eat something really sweet, like a spoonful of sugar, then immediately taste something with aspartame in it, like diet coke. She says it tastes bitter to super tasters, not sweet.
      • According to other people, I am in a similar situation. I think I can smell just fine, but people around me will be floored by odors I don't notice until someone brings attention to it.

    • by geschild (43455)

      "In short: you only get one nose, don't blow it."

      It's only funny if you're not addicted to blow... ;D

  • Dogs are known to be able to sense illness in humans and I guess their extreme sense of smell plays a part. This is an interesting development - more portable than a dog and able to report what is being smelled (as opposed to 'woof' or a wagging tail).
    • by TheLink (130905)
      Benefits of an artificial nose over a dog
      1) It probably doesn't get bored as fast.
      2) you can buy a replacement without having to train it for months.
      3) the original and replacement work within known specs.

      Dogs are probably more fun to play with though :).
      • by SL Baur (19540)

        Benefits of an artificial nose over a dog ...

        Disadvantages:
        1) An artificial nose will never go on walks with you.
        2) An artificial nose will never jump up and down and all over you when you go near him and he hasn't seen you in a few minutes.
        3) An artificial nose cannot walk your children to school and find his way home on his own.

        Dogs are probably more fun to play with though :).

        Yup.

        • Benefits of an artificial nose over a dog ...

          Disadvantages: 1) An artificial nose will never go on walks with you. 2) An artificial nose will never jump up and down and all over you when you go near him and he hasn't seen you in a few minutes. 3) An artificial nose cannot walk your children to school and find his way home on his own.

          Dogs are probably more fun to play with though :).

          Yup.

          On the other hand, artificial noses don't create bad smells.

  • First recipient of the nose, Marbic Shnauzer, fainted when the nose was first switched on. Scientists revealed a bug in the software made everything smell like ass. Mr Shnauzer said "I took one wiff of my own and and the smell was just too much. You try smelling ass after 5 years of nothing and see if you can take it!". Initial reports that a bored coder programmed this bug in on purpose were denied.

  • Five senses? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Maxmin (921568) on Wednesday October 01, 2008 @08:40PM (#25227331)

    The MIT RealNose project seeks to recreate the most complex and least-understood of the six senses, smell.

    You forgot the kinesthetic senses, like acceleration, and the primary vestibular sense organ, the cochlea. Everybody forgets that one.

    • You forgot the kinesthetic senses, like acceleration, and the primary vestibular sense organ, the cochlea. Everybody forgets that one.

      You forgot common sense, the primary sense function of the brain. Everybody forgets that one...well at least bankers on Wall Street seem to.

    • by Macgrrl (762836)

      Unless you happen to be a chronic motion-sickness sufferer.

    • by TheLink (130905)
      There's also being able to sense the position where your limbs are.

      That's pretty important. Some people without that sense can still learn to walk, but if you switch the lights off, they could collapse.

      Then there's the sense of hunger and fullness, thirst vs too much water.

      Plenty of other important senses.
  • Most folks might think it' snot really important, but I think it's important enough for /. to runny it up front.

  • Not that important (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I lost my sense of smell in a head injury 5 years ago. My sense of taste was not affected.

    Contrary to what you might think, I don't miss it much. In fact, in the city, most smells are bad. I'd say the situations where I am aware that I am not sensing a bad smell (cig smoke, urine, exhaust, chemicals, dog poo, etc) outnumber the ones where I am missing a good smell (flowers, perfume, dinner, the smell after rain, choc chip cookies) probably about five to one.

    The worst part really is acting like I can smell t

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Wednesday October 01, 2008 @08:59PM (#25227531) Homepage Journal
    Does it really matter? Does not a nose by any other name still smell?
    • Leave this "nose" and a normal one in plastic bags for a week or two and compare how they smell afterwards.

  • Well... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by neokushan (932374)

    Michael Jackson will be pleased.

  • by mschuyler (197441) on Wednesday October 01, 2008 @09:06PM (#25227615) Homepage Journal

    I lost my sense of smell entirely for a couple of years. It has since returned, though not all that strongly. You don't realize what it's like unless it happens. Yeah, I could go into a barn and not be bothered and if my dog farted I didn't care, but I couldn't smell gas (the kind they sell you to heat up the stove), or anything burning, or sweat, or gasoline fumes (suggesting accompanying odorless CO), or spoilage in food that otherwise looked okay, or mildew, or that very special burning plastic stink of a hot CPU. Use your imagination for more 'exotic' issues.

    It's damn dangerous to not have your sense of smell. I also lost interest in food. I couldn't understand at first why I needed more and more garlic until S.O. complained and I realized something was wrong. It sneaks up on you (just like fat!)

    A couple of years later we were driving from Spokane to Seattle, a boring 300 mile trip in I-90, and my S.O. said, "You probaby can't tell this, but..."

    "A skunk!" I said.

    I've never been so happy to smell a skunk in my life! So I'd be happy with a plug-in replacement.

    • by TheLink (130905)
      Apparently post-coital prolactin is linked with the growth of new brain cells that move to the olfactory bulb.

      e.g. more orgasms might help improve your sense of smell faster.

      The latter has not been scientifically verified, YMMV etc.
  • Like that new portable scanner seen previously on slashdot [slashdot.org] so I can finally live my dream of owning a real tricorder? And most likely subsequently be devoured by a strange new lifeform due to the entity's attraction to my red shirt...

    • And most likely subsequently be devoured by a strange new lifeform due to the entity's attraction to my red shirt...

      Be warned that if you happen to be dumb enough te wear a red shirt while using startrek-like technology and get killed, you will be nominated for a Darwin Award.

  • "to develop a portable microfluidic device that can identify various smells, including diseases with unique odors, such as diabetes and cancers." Given who has money right now I'd say "to develop a portable microfluidic device that can identify various smells, including drugs with unique odors, such as marijuana" is more likely what we'll see first.
    • Given who has money right now I'd say "to develop a portable microfluidic device that can identify various smells, including drugs with unique odors, such as marijuana" is more likely what we'll see first.

      And anyone who smells "black" or "Muslim" or "foreigner".

  • by Datamonstar (845886) on Wednesday October 01, 2008 @09:51PM (#25227997)
    Ever since I read Hong on the Range [williamfwu.com]. Smellin Llewellyn was my favorite villan. He's basically an outlaw with a cybernetic nose implant that allows him to track anything with the faintest scent. Comes in pretty handy on the cyber-frontier. God I loved that book.
  • by Mathness (145187)

    A comment was overheard from Odo aboard DS9 "finally I can get a decent looking nose".

  • Cell structure has been checked.
  • I guarantee the first application of this will be used to detect the scent of marijuana. The device will be used to throw even more victims in our overcrowded jails/prisons to rot, ruining lives forever, all in the name of the "War on Drugs(tm)" i.e. war on a harmless plant. The good news is, when the revolution comes the victims will have the last laugh as the law enforcement officials, legislators, judges, etc responsible for its abuse are shot/hanged/imprisoned or otherwise disposed of.

  • because a certain scene from Woody Allen's Sleeper has been called to mind in my mental screening room and I must wait until it is done playing.
  • This development can potentially allow us to observe the outside world in new and unusual ways, possibly beyond restoring the common smell sense.

    Aside from Futurama jokes, imagine being able to literally smell a good or bad sample in data processing, etc.

    At SETI research lab: "Look Joe, this is a funny-smelling star system, if I ever saw one!"

    • What about using it as a smell amplifier? Just imagine being able to smell things 1000x stronger than they actually are! Ok on second thought that might not be such a good idea.
    • by SL Baur (19540)

      imagine being able to literally smell a good or bad sample in data processing, etc.

      I never wanted to be a programmer. Never. In the fields I tried first in college (Physics and Electronics) I had absolutely no intuition when it came down to dealing with harder stuff. Programming though, is different for me. I can walk into a large scale project to firefight, read a little source code to get a bit of understanding of what's going on, ask some questions and get straight to the real problem fairly quickly. I can't explain it other than the brain works differently for different people.

      An

  • My first thought: happy shiny red rubber artificial noses!

  • If you want to geek out on eNoses, there is a lot of information out there. The article referenced above doesnâ(TM)t get into much detail, but there are basically three different techniques that are commonly used: mass spectrometry, used by companies like Torion [slashdot.org] , gas chromotography, used by companies like Seacoast Science, Inc [slashdot.org], and some of the newer systems use optical sensor systems, used by QualSec [slashdot.org]. Of these I like the optical sensors the best, because some of them can detect in the parts per Billio

  • married a girl with a severely diminished sense of smell. Perfect girl for him, as his diet was horrendous and he produced fumes that, a!@%$^(*!@

    I'm stroking out just thinking about 'em, you get the idea..

Time to take stock. Go home with some office supplies.

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