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Nature. 1982 Sep 23;299(5881):352-5.

Analysis of discrimination mechanisms in the mammalian olfactory system using a model nose.


Olfaction exhibits both high sensitivity for odours and high discrimination between them. We suggest that to make fine discriminations between complex odorant mixtures containing varying ratios of odorants without the necessity for highly specialized peripheral receptors, the olfactory systems makes use of feature detection using broadly tuned receptor cells organized in a convergent neurone pathway. As a test of this hypothesis we have constructed an electronic nose using semiconductor transducers and incorporating design features suggested by our proposal. We report here that this device can reproducibly discriminate between a wide variety of odours, and its properties show that discrimination in an olfactory system could be achieved without the use of highly specific receptors.

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