EVANSTON, Ill. - Northwestern University researchers have developed a new "smell virtual landscape" that enables the study of how smells engage the brain's navigation system.

The work demonstrates, for the first time, that the mammalian brain can form a map of its surroundings based solely on smells.

The olfactory-based virtual reality system could lead to a fuller understanding of odor-guided navigation and explain why mammals have an aversion to unpleasant odors, an attraction to pheromones and an innate preference to one odor over another.

The system could also help tech developers incorporate smell into current virtual reality systems to give users a more multisensory experience.

"It is the world's first method to control odorant concentrations rapidly in space for mammals as they move around."

The study was published online today, Feb. 26, by the journal Nature Communications.

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