On the Unpredictability of Odor



The relationship between molecular structure and odor has fascinated and puzzled chemists for more than a century. Despite a great deal of research on structure–odor relationships, prediction of the odor of a novel molecule remains a statistical exercise and models only provide a probability of the character, threshold, and intensity. Surprises are still commonplace, and serendipity continues to be an important factor in the discovery of novel fragrant molecules. Recent advances in our understanding of the mechanism of olfaction provide an explanation for this and suggest that our ability to predict odor properties of molecules will not improve significantly in the near future.