Faculty Bulletin Board

Biochemist Sriram Kosuri receives NSF award to crack the olfactory code

Sriram Kosuri
Penny Jennings

Sriram Kosuri is investigating how the mammalian olfactory sense can swiftly discriminate between thousands of odors.

Sriram Kosuri, UCLA assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry is a principal investigator of "Analysis of the mammalian olfactory code," one of three projects that the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced will receive a total of $15 million to research the intricacies of olfaction and the neural coding of odors.

Since the early 19th Century, scientists have worked to unravel the mystery of olfaction  — our sense of smell, which is critical for the survival of species across the animal kingdom. Yet how the brain processes and identifies odors, and how this information influences behavior, remain largely an enigma. The three projects the NSF is funding seek to help solve this mystery and advance our broader understanding of the brain.

“Olfaction is both an important and tractable problem in neuroscience,” said James Olds, assistant director of the NSF’s biological sciences directorate. “By using the olfactory system, which is an ancient system, as a model for neural circuits, we can gain insights into the fundamental principles underlying neural activity and complex behaviors.”

The mammalian olfactory sense can swiftly discriminate between thousands of odors, and parse out the different smells in complex odor combinations. The project Kosuri is working on will investigate the process of odor recognition, focusing on how basic features of odor perception smell — odor identity and valence, which is the behavioral significance attached to an odor smell — are encoded in the brain.

The other funded projects will study olfactory navigation in the natural environment and using natural odor stimuli in fruit flies and honeybees to crack the olfactory code. The awards expand NSF’s investments in the President's BRAIN Initiative. They are funded by NSF’s directorates for biological sciences and mathematical and physical sciences.

Kosuri is a 2015 Searle Scholar and holds UCLA’s Linda and Fred Wudl Term Chair. He develops and leverages new technologies in DNA synthesis, DNA sequencing and genome engineering to make the understanding and engineering of biological systems faster and simpler.

For more information about his research, visit Kosuri’s website and the NSF announcement.

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