Our understanding of olfaction has progressed rapidly in recent years as a result of the molecular genetic approaches being used to study this sensory system in a variety of model organisms. Considerable success has been achieved in identifying proteins of the mammalian signaling system that are analogous to those present in other sensory systems. More recently, genetic selection of mutations that cause defects in olfactory function in Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans has led to the identification of additional proteins that play a role in the detection of odorants. The application of genetic, electrophysiological, and molecular analyses to olfactory function in mammals is also shedding light on the mechanisms that account for sensitivity and specificity in this system. (This review will also appear in Current Opinion in Genetics & Development 1995, volume 5, issue 5 on Differentiation and gene regulation.).
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