Moustafa Bensafi answers our questions in an exclusive interview for the Per Fumum Endowment Fund
Moustafa Bensafi, you are a neuroscientist and you have chosen to work on a 3-year interdisciplinary study dedicated to the understanding of olfactory pleasure. What is the interest of better understanding olfactory pleasure today?
The study of olfactory pleasure meets two challenges. The first is fundamental. It is a question of understanding the biological, psychological and social bases of the construction of positive olfactory emotions, essential to our well-being. The second is applied. It aims to better understand the preferences of amateurs and consumers of scented and flavored products.
What was missing from this study?
Smells are important for our diet, our relationships with others and our psychological well-being. The olfactory sense is characterized by interindividual diversity, due to physiological, sociocognitive and genetic factors. However, although this variability is known, the influence of these factors in olfactory pleasure is still poorly understood and this project therefore aims to experimentally study their association with the olfactory preferences of individuals.
To whom and how can this benefit us?
The impact of our project could be threefold. First of all, for researchers in the field, by providing new knowledge on the subject and by proposing new forms of measurement and analysis of olfactory pleasure.
Secondly, to industrialists, by providing them with original theoretical models on olfactory pleasure, which they can then apply to their own problems. Finally, to the general public, by providing them with elements of knowledge about the sense of smell on the one hand and its hedonic component on the other.
The understanding of inter-individual diversity and its sources is important to understand the olfactory sense in its globality and its particularities, and thus to better understand the behavior of individuals, whether it is from a fundamental or applied research perspective. In particular, the study of the combination of these factors of variation allows to apprehend the olfactory pleasure in a more ecological perspective and close to the reality of the differences of experiences.
What exactly is this study, nicknamed CLIO, about?
The CLIO project aims to better understand how genetics on the one hand, and physiological and socio-cognitive factors on the other, contribute to the construction of olfactory pleasure. The first part of the project will include psychophysical tests, questionnaires and genetic sequencing for olfactory receptors specific to a given odor, beta-ionone. This volatile compound with a characteristic floral odor is widely used in the perfume and food industry, and has the particularity of being associated with a single olfactory receptor. Psychological and genetic data will then be linked to determine the impact of particular genetic profiles on the perception and hedonic evaluation of various foods containing beta-ionone.
What are the objectives and expected results of this study?
The main objective of CLIO is to better understand how genetics on the one hand and physiological and socio-cognitive factors on the other hand contribute to explain the hedonic perception of odors. Several results are expected. First, we assume an effect of the genetic profile on the appreciation of foods containing beta-ionone: indeed, individuals with a profile associated with a high sensitivity to the molecule will like these products less than individuals with a profile associated with a low sensitivity, because of the more or less strong perception of the floral aroma of this compound.
Was it essential to advance the research to surround ourselves with a private partner such as the Per Fumum Endowment Fund?
This partnership with the foundation will allow us to direct our rather fundamental problems towards societal perspectives that make sense for the industrial sector of perfumery and food on the one hand and the general public on the other.
To learn more about the CLIO project, click here.