Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Data from: Olfaction written in bone: cribriform plate size parallels olfactory receptor gene repertoires in Mammalia


Bird, Deborah J. et al. (2018), Data from: Olfaction written in bone: cribriform plate size parallels olfactory receptor gene repertoires in Mammalia, Dryad, Dataset,


The evolution of mammalian olfaction is manifested in a remarkable diversity of gene repertoires, neuroanatomy, and skull morphology across living species. Olfactory receptor genes (ORG), which initiate the conversion of odorant molecules into odor perceptions and help an animal resolve the olfactory world, range in number from a mere handful to several thousand genes across species. Within the snout, each of these ORGs is exclusively expressed by a discrete population of olfactory sensory neurons (OSN), suggesting that newly evolved ORGs may be coupled with new OSN populations in the nasal epithelium. Because OSNs axon bundles leave high-fidelity perforations (foramina) in the bone as they traverse the cribriform plate (CP) to reach the brain, we predicted that taxa with larger ORG repertoires would have proportionately expanded footprints in the CP foramina. Previous work found a correlation between ORG number and absolute CP size that disappeared when body size effects were accounted for. Using updated, digital measurement data from high-resolution CT scans and reexamining the relationship between CP and body size, we report a striking linear correlation between relative CP area and number of functional ORGs across species from all mammalian superorders. This correlation suggests strong developmental links in the olfactory pathway between genes, neurons, and skull morphology. Furthermore, because ORG number is linked to olfactory discriminatory function, this correlation supports relative CP size as a viable metric for inferring olfactory capacity across modern and extinct species. By quantifying CP area from a fossil sabertooth cat (Smilodon fatalis) we predicted a likely ORG repertoire for this extinct felid.

Usage Notes


National Science Foundation, Award: UA NSF grants: DGE-1144087, IOS-1119768, IOS-1457106, BCS/IOS-0924592, BCS-1231350, BCS-1231717, BCS-0959438


All major continents