I study how the sense of smell works, using maggots. You and me have about 4 million smell cells in our noses. A maggot has just 21, and by using genetics we can make a maggot with just a single smell cell. By studying these animals and the electrical activity of their smell cells, we can understand how smells are processed. The bits of the maggot brain that process smells are wired up just like ours - by studying a simple maggot we hope to understand how the sense of smell works in all animals, including humans.
With collaborators in America I have looked at how human populations vary for the genes that enable us to smell. We studied one particular gene in over 2000 indigenous people and showed that it is the focus of natural selection. We also looked at this gene in extinct human populations (Neanderthals, Denisovans) and were able to understand how they would have perceived certain odours.
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