Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2004
Born: 2 July 1946, New York, NY, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
Prize motivation: "for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system."
Prize share: 1/2
In 1991, Richard Axel and Linda Buck discovered how hundreds of genes in our DNA code for the odorant sensors located in the olfactory sensory neurons in our noses. Each receptor is a protein that changes when an odorant attaches itself to the receptor. This causes an electric signal to be sent to the brain. Small differences between different odorant sensors mean that certain odorants cause a signal to be released from a certain receptor. Smells are composed of a large number of different substances and we interpret the varying signals from our receptors as specific scents.