A first: Researchers apply efficient coding principle to sense of smell

April 25, 2008

For the first time, researchers have demonstrated that the efficient coding principle regarding neurobiological processes applies to sense of smell. The team, comprised of researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), displays this quantitative relationship in a study of male moths and pheromone plumes, published April 25th in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology.

The efficient coding principle – the adaptation of sensory neurons to the statistical characteristics of their natural stimulus – has previously been studied in visual and auditory neurobiology. In this new study, the researchers have extended this principle to sense of smell, studying how males locate their female mates via pheromone release. The team affirms that olfactory neurons in moths best process those stimuli that occur most frequently.

The authors selected the pheromone olfactory system because it is the only one in aerial animals for which quantitative properties of both the natural stimulus and the reception processes are known. These properties were used to determine the characteristics of the pheromone plume that are best detected by the male neuron reception system. The researchers then matched those characteristics with those from plume measurements in the field, providing quantitative evidence that this system obeys the efficient coding principle.

The researchers note that this study was confined to early detection events, most notably the interaction of pheromone molecules with membrane receptors. Exploring the quantitative relationship between the properties of biological sensory systems and their natural environment should lead not only to a better understanding of neural functions and evolutionary processes, but also to improvements in the design of artificial sensory systems.

Citation: Kostal L, Lansky P, Rospars J-P (2008) Efficient Olfactory Coding in the Pheromone Receptor Neuron of a Moth. PLoS Comput Biol 4(4): e1000053. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000053

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: How do ants identify different members of their society?

Related Stories

How do ants identify different members of their society?

August 13, 2015

Ants, which are eusocial insects, have intrigued scientists for long as a model for cooperation inside a colony where they nurse the young, gather food and defend against intruders. Most recently, ants have been shown to ...

Insect mating behavior has lessons for drones

May 29, 2015

Male moths locate females by navigating along the latter's pheromone (odor) plume, often flying hundreds of meters to do so. Two strategies are involved to accomplish this: males must find the outer envelope of the pheromone ...

Recommended for you

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

Image: Hubble sees a youthful cluster

August 31, 2015

Shown here in a new image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is the globular cluster NGC 1783. This is one of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.