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Researchers have sniffed out the secret to elephants’ smelling success

Sunday, August 17, 2014 - 01:27

Elephants have the best sense of smell on Earth, according to a new study from the University of Tokyo. The Japanese scientists found that elephant trunks contain more olfactory receptors genes than other single species on the planet, giving them a sense of smell 5 times more powerful than that of humans. Tara Cleary reports.

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STORY: Elephants have the longest noses in the animal kingdom, so it's logical they might also possess the most discerning sense of smell. And researchers at the University of Tokyo concur - a new study shows that African elephants have the highest number of different smell detectors - known as olfactory receptor genes - ever found in one species. One of the authors of the study, Yoshihito Niimura examined 31 vertebrates and found that African elephants came out on top with almost 2,000 different types of smell genes in their trunks, more than twice the number found in the more sensitive noses of dogs. SOUNDBITE: YOSHIHITO NIIMURA, UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO GRADUATE SCHOOL OF AGRICULTURAL AND LIFE SCIENCES, SAYING (Japanese): "By comparing the differences in olfactory genes of different animals, we discovered which genes are common to all and which genes are unique to the animal. The common genes have been preserved throughout the evolutionary process and we think that these hold important functions for all types of animals. But for those genes which have increased specifically for the animal, we can infer that these are important genes for that animal in its specific environment." And that's potentially good news for humans - Niimura discovered that two of the three shared genes have functions other than smell and he says that further research into the shared genes may lead to new discoveries and possible medical applications for humans. And that's something not to be sniffed at.

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Researchers have sniffed out the secret to elephants’ smelling success

Sunday, August 17, 2014 - 01:27