Leslie Vosshall. Rockefeller University
How does the human brain make sense of the many chemicals we taste and smell in our daily lives? Leslie Vosshall looks for answers in her lab at the Rockefeller University, taking a multi-disciplinary approach spanning genetics, neurobiology and behaviour. Vosshall has been studying the basic rules of the human sense of smell since 2002. Together with her collaborator Andreas Keller, she established the Rockefeller University Smell Study, which has screened the sense of smell of more than 2,000 normal human subjects. Leslie used this dataset to investigate some of the most central questions in olfaction: what are the inter-individual differences in the human sense of smell? What is the mechanism of selective smell blindness? How many olfactory stimuli can humans discriminate? How does the chemical structure of an odorant relate to its perceived odour? This work is important because the sense of smell is poorly understood relative to vision and hearing, and discoveries made here have the potential to aid in detection of smell disorders in humans.