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Many learning bouts

Next, the team observed that some neurons respond differently to two very dissimilar odors, but the same to similar smells. The researchers called these neurons reliable cells. This small group of cells helps flies quickly distinguish between differing odors. Another much larger group of neurons responds unpredictably when exposed to similar smells. These neurons, which the researchers call unreliable cells, might help us learn to identify specific scents in a glass of wine, for example.

“The model we developed shows these unreliable cells are useful,” Srinivasan says. “But it requires many learning bouts to take advantage of them.”

— Read more in Smells like learning at EurekAlert.

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