Molecular Olfaction

We identify the mechanisms and genetics influencing smell in humans to assist in new product development, and in insects for the development of novel pest control methods.

We are investigating the mechanisms and underlying variation involved in olfaction (the ability to smell).  Olfaction is a critical sense for many organisms and harnessing it for use in biosensor technology would have applications in food quality assessment, medical diagnostics, and intercepting pests, diseases and contraband at borders. Understanding olfaction in humans could influence the design of foods and beverages, personalising them for flavour.

Our research involves the isolation and characterisation of elements in odour production and chemosensory reception systems.  In our work on insect olfaction, we use in vitro and cell-based recombinant expression, fluorescent microscopy and X-ray crystallography to study the structure of chemosensory proteins, to determine the binding kinetics of their ligands and to address hypotheses of how binding is translated into a neuronal signal. In addition, we are interested in insect population genetics and speciation, especially where these overlap with our research on olfaction.

In our human genetics research, we are identifying variation that underlies differences in the ability to detect important flavour compounds. We use whole genome association tests and cell-based assays to identify the polymorphisms responsible, and the Sensory and Consumer Science team are undertaking research to test whether these polymorphisms explain differences among consumers in their perception, preference and consumption of various foods and beverages.