Olfaction or olfactory perception is the sense of smell. This sense is mediated by specialized sensory cells of the nasal cavity of vertebrates, which can be considered analogous to sensory cells of the antennae of invertebrates. In humans, olfaction occurs when odorant molecules bind to specific sites on the olfactory receptors. These receptors are used to detect the presence of smell. They come together at the glomerulus, a structure which transmits signals to the olfactory bulb (a brain structure directly above the nasal cavity and below the frontal lobe). Many vertebrates, including most mammals and reptiles, have two distinct olfactory systems - the main olfactory system, and the accessory olfactory system (used mainly to detect pheromones).
At the top of your nasal passages behind your nose, there is a patch of special neurons about the size of a postage stamp. These neurons are unique in that they are out in the open where they can come into contact with the air. They have hair-like projections called cilia that increase their surface area. An odor molecule binds to these cilia to trigger the neuron and cause you to perceive a smell.
Each of the hundreds of receptors are encoded by a specific gene. If your DNA is missing a gene or if the gene is damaged, it can cause you to be unable to detect a certain smell. For example, some people have no sense for the smell of camphor. When you smell many fruits or flowers, what you are smelling is esters evaporating from the fruit or flower. Esters are organic molecules. For example, the ester that gives a banana its smell is called isoamyl acetate, and the formula for it is CH3COOC5H11. The primary smell of an orange comes from octyl acetate, or CH3COOC8H17. Esters can now be made artificially, and that is where artificial flavors come from
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