Monday, February 14, 2011

Evidence for Turin's vibration theory of smell

There's a story on the Nature site today about an experiment that provides evidence for Luca Turin's theory of primary olfaction (which is based on the vibration of molecules as opposed to their shape; watch his TED talk about it here). Researchers found that fruit flies (good old drosophilidae ... what good study doesn't start with fruit flies?) can smell the difference between hydrogen and deuterium, a heavier isotope that has the same shape. The shape-based theory of smell would predict that different isotopes would smell the same.

For further discussion:
  • A former roommate of mine, a biologist, told me fruit flies can have sex for like 20 minutes. Yea? Nay?
  • There's another theory that small amounts of heavy water (water that contains deuterium instead of hydrogen) can lengthen life span (at least in, you guessed it, fruit flies). In large amounts, however, it is deadly.
  • If you have a fruit fly problem in your kitchen, try pouring bleach down the drain.
  • My friend Chip once, as a kid, drank a cup of bleach. His father was cleaning out a water cooler, and Chip mistook the bleach for water and downed a cup, then realized what he'd done. He read on the back of the bleach bottle "CAN CAUSE DEATH." A little while later his mom found him sitting in his room by himself, crying, looking at old pictures, absolutely sure he was going to die. He was fine. Same guy, many years later, accidentally set his face on fire while taking a flaming shot. He was fine. Same guy also introduced me to Perfumes: The Guide; he is old friends with Tania Sanchez, and thought I would like it.


  1. There is something so touching-yet-hilarious about young bleach-guzzling Chip tearfully flipping through the family photo album, prepping for his imminent demise.

  2. Both of those incidents pretty succinctly sum up Chip, the man, in a paragraph. Well done, Gabbs.

  3. "...crying, looking at old pictures, absolutely sure he was going to die." - I find this absolutely adorable, even if it is incredibly sad. Facing mortality all alone at such a young age! I want a t-shirt with him on it.

    I remember being fascinated with "heavy water" when I first learned of it. Of course, it was not what I thought it was, so no "can't lift the glass of water" pranks to play.

    Fruit flies can suck it.

  4. I'd like to get my hands on some heavy water too! To smell it, if nothing else.

    Ha! Well-said.