Luca Turin

Luca Turin

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Luca Turin is a biophysicist
Biophysics
Biophysics is an interdisciplinary science that uses the methods of physical science to study biological systems. Studies included under the branches of biophysics span all levels of biological organization, from the molecular scale to whole organisms and ecosystems...

 with a long-standing interest in the sense of smell, the art of perfume, and the fragrance industry.

Vibration theory of olfaction


Since 1996 Turin has been the leading proponent of the vibration theory of olfaction
Vibration theory of olfaction
The Vibration theory of smell proposes that a molecule's smell character is due to its vibrational frequency in the infrared range. The theory is opposed to the more widely accepted shape theory of olfaction, which proposes that a molecule's smell character is due to its shape.-Introduction:The...

, which proposes that the vibrational spectroscopic properties of molecules can be an important determinant of their associated smells, rather than just the specific "lock and key" ligand binding proposed by the orthodox shape theory of olfaction
Shape theory of olfaction
The Shape theory of smell states that a molecule's particular smell is due to a 'lock and key' mechanism by which a scent molecule fits into olfactory receptors in the nasal epithelium.-History:In 1949, R.W...

. Turin suggested that a plausible mechanism for such a molecular spectroscope could be inelastic electron tunneling.

A major prediction of Turin's theory is the isotope
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 effect: that the normal and deuterated
Deuterium
Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. It has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in of hydrogen . Deuterium accounts for approximately 0.0156% of all naturally occurring hydrogen in Earth's oceans, while the most common isotope ...

 versions of a compound should smell different, although they have the same shape. A 2001 study by Haffenden et al. showed humans able to distinguish benzaldehyde
Benzaldehyde
Benzaldehyde is an organic compound consisting of a benzene ring with a formyl substituent. It is the simplest aromatic aldehyde and one of the most industrially useful. This colorless liquid has a characteristic pleasant almond-like odor...

 from its deuterated version.

However, experimental tests published in Nature Neuroscience
Nature Neuroscience
Nature Neuroscience is a monthly scientific journal published by Nature Publishing Group. Its focus is original research papers relating specifically to neuroscience and was established in May 1998. According to the Journal Citation Reports, Nature Neuroscience has a 2009 impact factor of 14.345,...

 in 2004 by Keller and Vosshall
Leslie B. Vosshall
-Biography:Leslie Birgit Vosshall, Ph.D., is an American neurobiologist who is well known for her contributions in the field of olfaction, particularly for the discovery and subsequent characterization of the insect olfactory receptor family. She received her Ph.D...

 failed to support this prediction, with human subjects unable to distinguish acetophenone
Acetophenone
Acetophenone is the organic compound with the formula C6H5CCH3. It is the simplest aromatic ketone. This colourless, viscous liquid is a precursor to useful resins and fragrances.-Production:Acetophenone can be obtained by a variety of methods...

 and its deuterated counterpart. The study was accompanied by an editorial, which considered the work of Keller and Vosshall to be "refutation of a theory that, while provocative, has almost no credence in scientific circles." It continued, "The only reason for the authors to do the study, or for Nature Neuroscience to publish it, is the extraordinary -- and inappropriate -- degree of publicity that the theory has received from uncritical journalists." The journal also published a review of The Emperor of Scent, calling Chandler Burr's book about Turin and his theory "giddy and overwrought."

Philosopher of science Miriam Solomon of Temple University, who reviewed Turin's own book in Science
Science (journal)
Science is the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is one of the world's top scientific journals....

, has suggested that Nature Neuroscience may have been defensive about the positive publicity surrounding Turin's theory because Nature
Nature (journal)
Nature, first published on 4 November 1869, is ranked the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports...

, the parent journal, rejected Turin's original article. (Turin's research paper was published instead in Senses.) Nevertheless, two years after publishing the Vosshall paper and the accompanying editorial, the news website of Nature published an article about a study that supported Turin's theory: "A controversial theory of how we smell, which claims that our fine sense of odour depends on quantum mechanics, has been given the thumbs up by a team of physicists."

In addition, tests with animals have shown fish and insects able to distinguish isotopes by smell. Biophysical simulations published in Physical Review Letters
Physical Review Letters
Physical Review Letters , established in 1958, is a peer reviewed, scientific journal that is published 52 times per year by the American Physical Society...

 in 2007 suggest that Turin's proposal is viable from a physics standpoint.

The vibration theory received possible support from a 2004 paper published in the journal Organic Biomolecular Chemistry by Takane and Mitchell, which shows that odor descriptions in the olfaction literature correlate more strongly with vibrational frequency than with molecular shape.
However, the authors state "Our view is that the relationship between vibrational frequencies and odour is not causal (as in Turin's theory), but may come about indirectly as a consequence of similar molecules having similar properties." The method may be seen as an approach within the field of Cheminformatics
Cheminformatics
Cheminformatics is the use of computer and informational techniques, applied to a range of problems in the field of chemistry. These in silico techniques are used in pharmaceutical companies in the process of drug discovery...

, in which a variety of approaches are used to predict the function of molecules from their characteristics, not all of which imply a causal link between the input (here, vibrational frequencies) and output (here, odour prediction).

Biography


Turin was born in 1953 in Beirut
Beirut
Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon, with a population ranging from 1 million to more than 2 million . Located on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon's Mediterranean coastline, it serves as the country's largest and main seaport, and also forms the Beirut Metropolitan...

, Lebanon
Lebanon
Lebanon , officially the Republic of LebanonRepublic of Lebanon is the most common term used by Lebanese government agencies. The term Lebanese Republic, a literal translation of the official Arabic and French names that is not used in today's world. Arabic is the most common language spoken among...

, to Italian Argentine
Italian Argentine
An Italian Argentine is a person born in Argentina of Italian ancestry. It is estimated up to 25 million Argentines have some degree of Italian descent...

 parents. He lives in Somerville, MA.

Education and employment


Turin earned his Ph.D. in physiology
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

 at University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

. From 1982 until 1988, he worked in France as a researcher for the CNRS at the Villefranche Marine Station near Nice
Nice
Nice is the fifth most populous city in France, after Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, with a population of 348,721 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Nice extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of more than 955,000 on an area of...

. He was then employed at the Pasteur Institute
Pasteur Institute
The Pasteur Institute is a French non-profit private foundation dedicated to the study of biology, micro-organisms, diseases, and vaccines. It is named after Louis Pasteur, who made some of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine at the time, including pasteurization and vaccines for anthrax...

 from 1988 until 1990.

After leaving the CNRS, Turin first held a visiting research position at the National Institutes of Health
National Institutes of Health
The National Institutes of Health are an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and are the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research. Its science and engineering counterpart is the National Science Foundation...

 in North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

 before moving back to London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, where he became a lecturer in biophysics at University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

. In 2001 Turin was hired as CTO of start-up company Flexitral, based in Chantilly, Virginia
Chantilly, Virginia
Chantilly is an unincorporated community located in western Fairfax County and southeastern Loudoun County of Northern Virginia. Recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau as a census designated place , the community population was 23,039 as of the 2010 census -- down from 41,041 in 2000, due to the...

, to pursue rational odorant design based on his theories. In April 2010 he described this role in the past tense, and the company's domain name appears to have been surrendered.

As of 2010, Turin is currently at MIT, working on a project to develop an electronic nose
Electronic nose
An electronic nose is a device intended to detect odors or flavors.Over the last decade, “electronic sensing” or “e-sensing” technologies have undergone important developments from a technical and commercial point of view...

 based in part on his theories, financed by DARPA. From April 2011 on, he will be working at the Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Centre in Vari, Greece.

Role in the case of Henri Korn


Turin's role in reporting a high-profile instance of scientific fraud
Fraud
In criminal law, a fraud is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual; the related adjective is fraudulent. The specific legal definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Fraud is a crime, and also a civil law violation...

 was reported in 2007 in both Nature
Nature (journal)
Nature, first published on 4 November 1869, is ranked the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports...

 and Le Nouvel Observateur
Le Nouvel Observateur
Le Nouvel Observateur is a weekly French newsmagazine. Based in Paris, it is the most prominent French general information magazine in terms of audience and circulation ....

.

In 1988, Turin began work at the lab led by neuroscience
Neuroscience
Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biology. However, it is currently an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics,...

 researcher Henri Korn at the Pasteur Institute
Pasteur Institute
The Pasteur Institute is a French non-profit private foundation dedicated to the study of biology, micro-organisms, diseases, and vaccines. It is named after Louis Pasteur, who made some of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine at the time, including pasteurization and vaccines for anthrax...

. There, Turin and his colleague Nicole Ropert reported to their superiors that they believed some of Korn's research on neurotransmitter
Neurotransmitter
Neurotransmitters are endogenous chemicals that transmit signals from a neuron to a target cell across a synapse. Neurotransmitters are packaged into synaptic vesicles clustered beneath the membrane on the presynaptic side of a synapse, and are released into the synaptic cleft, where they bind to...

s was based on fabricated results. After Turin made a formal request that the CNRS investigate the allegations, he was told to find work outside of France; Ropert was also asked to leave.

Korn was awarded the prestigious Richard Lounsbery Award in 1992 and became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. and the French Academy of Sciences. Then in 2007, re-analysis of Korn's data by Jacques Ninio in the Journal of Neurophysiology
Journal of Neurophysiology
The Journal of Neurophysiology is a peer-reviewed scientific journal founded in 1938. It is published by the American Physiological Society on a monthly basis, edited by David Linden. It publishes original research reports concerning the physiological aspects of neuroscience, along with a small...

 showed serious anomalies that suggested the results were indeed fabricated.

Publications and media coverage


Turin is the author of the book The Secret of Scent (2006), which details the history and science of his theory of olfaction, and an acclaimed critical guide to perfume, Parfums: Le Guide, with two editions published in French in 1992 and 1994. He is also the subject of the 2002 book The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr
Chandler Burr
Chandler Burr is an American journalist, author, and museum curator. Since December 2010 he has been curator of olfactory art at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City....

, as well as of the 1995 BBC Horizon documentary "A Code in the Nose."

Since 2003, Turin has also written a regular column on perfume, "Duftnote," for NZZ Folio, the German-language monthly magazine of Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung
Neue Zürcher Zeitung
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung is a major German language Swiss daily newspaper based in Zurich.One of the oldest newspapers still published, it originally appeared as Zürcher Zeitung, edited by Salomon Gessner, from January 12, 1780, and was renamed to Neue Zürcher Zeitung in 1821...

. The column is also published in English on the magazine's website. He also publishes a regular (every second week) column in the Feuilleton of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung under the title Wie sich jetzt herausgestellt hat or in English: "As it turns out".

In 2008, Viking Press
Viking Press
Viking Press is an American publishing company owned by the Penguin Group, which has owned the company since 1975. It was founded in New York City on March 1, 1925, by Harold K. Guinzburg and George S. Oppenheim...

published Perfumes: The Guide by Turin and Tania Sanchez. The book comprises 1,500 critical reviews of individual fragrances, plus introductory essays about the art, science, and history of perfume.

External links