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Humans Can Discriminate More Than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli

C. Bushdid, M. O. Magnasco, L. B. Vosshall, A. Keller

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All the Smells of the World How many odorant stimuli can a normal human being discriminate? During psychophysical tests of odor mixture discrimination, Bushdid et al. (p. 1370 ) were surprised to find that humans can discriminate among more than a trillion different smells. Because the authors reduced the complexity by investigating only mixtures of 10, 20, or 30 components drawn from a collection of 128 odorous molecules, this astonishingly large number is probably the lower limit of the potential number of olfactory stimuli that humans can distinguish.