Published: Monday 15 August 2005

heady odour: US scientists have found how odours generate signals that eventually travel to the brain.

As per the current knowledge, our sense of smell converts odours into brain signals, just as our vision converts light into brain signals. But the researchers at the Johns Hopkins' Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences suggest while a key protein (called G-protein) pathway is used in both, it behaves differently in one's nose than in one's eyes. They say the response to nasal signals is at least 100 times lower than that produced by the cells in the eyes.

water gene: Australian researchers have identified a gene that controls the water efficiency of plants. This is the first plant gene found to mediate the process, which is critical to plant survival, crop yield and vegetation dynamics.

Josette Masle from the Research School of Biological Sciences in the Australian National University, with colleagues Scott Gilmore and Graham Farquhar, identified the gene, called ERECTA, in the model plant Arabidopsis, a convenient species for laboratory studies of genetics, and the only plant species besides rice for which the whole genome has been sequenced.

viral insight: Biologists at the Purdue University in the US have determined the combined structure of a common-cold virus attached to a molecule that enables the virus to infect its host. The information may ultimately help researchers develop methods for treating certain viral infections.

Coxsackievirus A21 infects host cells first by recognising a "receptor molecule" called ICAM-1, which is located on the cell's surface, and then by anchoring itself to the molecule. ICAM-1 stands for intracellular adhesion molecule 1 and is used by the majority of viruses that cause the common cold, said Chuan Xiao, who is leading the research.

three suns: A newfound planet has three suns, a US scientist says. The discovery suggests planets are even more common than has been previously believed.

Maciej Konacki of the California Institute of Technology reported finding the planet in the direction of the constellation Cygnus. The planet is slightly larger than Jupiter and the fact that it's being pulled in three different directions by the gravity of nearby stars makes it hard to see how it survives. The finding promises to "seriously challenge our current understanding of how planets are formed," according to an emailed statement from the institute.

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