The reawakening of a long-forgotten memory by the scent of spring lilacs in bloom or an apple pie fresh from the oven can be one of our most powerful human responses -- and one of the most mysterious.
How do we differentiate thousands of distinct odors and how do our brains perceive and remember them? Dr. Linda Buck set out to understand the sense of smell, a monumental scientific question that had long evaded explanation.
Through years of intensive research, Buck became the first to identify a family of genes that control the olfactory system, a complex network that governs our sense of smell. The genes are blueprints for a family of smell-receptor proteins in the nose that work in different combinations so that the brain can identify a nearly infinite array of odors — much like the letters of the alphabet are combined to form different words.