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Super smeller? Not dogs, but African elephants

 Times of India, Delhi, 24th July 2014


It has been scientifically proven that the African elephant has the most powerful sense of smell in the entire animal kingdom. Researchers for the first time examined the Olfactory Receptor (OR) repertoire encoded in 13 mammalian species and found that African elephants have the largest number of OR genes ever characterized; more than twice that found in dogs and five times more than in humans. The authors then examined genome sequences from 13 placental mammals and identified over 10,000 OR genes in total.


The repertoire of OR genes found in any given species was highly unique - only three OR genes were shared and evolutionarily conserved amongst all 13 mammals. The African elephant had the most extensive olfactory repertoire with almost 2,000 OR genes. "The functions of these genes are not well known but they are likely important for the living environment of African elephants," said author Yoshihito Niimura. "Apparently an elephant's nose is not only long but also superior." Conversely humans along with our primate relatives have much fewer numbers of OR genes compared to all other species examined possibly as a result of our diminished reliance on smell as our visual acuity improved. Scientists traced the evolutionary histories of OR genes using a novel computational tool to deduce ancestral genes and then examined their duplication or loss in each species.