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The next generation of odor sensors



We live in a world of odors, chemicals full of information. However, despite decades of research and development, this aromatic information has remained mostly unexplored. But now scientists are redoubling their efforts to recreate the sense of smell in compact devices that detect and analyze odors, which would detect diseases such as cancer or covid-19, locate hidden explosives or decipher our mood and behavior, taking advantage of advances in synthetic biology, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. The search to build better olfactory sensors is a challenge because odors are composed of many different chemical substances and because the olfactory receptors of animals are remarkably diverse. Humans have three types of receptors for color vision, for example, but hundreds of different olfactory receptors. Among the most futuristic devices are those that incorporate living cells designed to react to specific odor components. Koniku Inc., located in San Rafael, California, is experimenting with nerve cells created by bioengineering as a basis for developing sensors capable of detecting packages and luggage containing explosives. In tests, Koniku's sensors coincided with the ability of trained dogs to detect explosives. Aromyx Corp., a new company in Mountain View, California, also uses cells to create odor sensors and offers food and wine producers a laboratory service to identify specific odor molecules that drive consumer preferences. While MIT is focusing on the medical applications of smell technology. Inspired by dogs that have demonstrated the ability to sniff malignant tumors in humans, it is working on an artificial intelligence odor detection system to detect prostate cancer. Experts warn that a number of scientific and technical challenges must be overcome before high-tech odor detectors are ready for extensive market penetration. For now, the work, research and development of prototypes continue, to have an intelligent olfactory sensor, which we will surely know sooner than we imagine.

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