Fruity or fermented? Algorithm predicts how molecules smell

Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images By Bob Holmes It’s not something to be sniffed at. Computers have cracked a problem that has stumped chemists for centuries: predicting a molecule’s odour from its structure. The feat may allow perfumers and flavour specialists to create new products with much less trial and error. Unlike vision and hearing, the result of which can be predicted by analysing wavelengths of light or sound, our sense of smell has long remained inscrutable. Olfactory chemists have never been able to predict how a given molecule will smell, except in a few special cases, because so many aspects of a molecule’s structure could be important in determining its odour. Andreas Keller and Leslie Vosshall at Rockefeller University in New York City decided to crowdsource the power of machine learning…


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