The researchers say that an electronic nose based on natural olfactory receptors could be used to give companies a means of honing in on precise smells according to product and consumer requirements.
The tiny bioelectrics sensors may take some of the guess work out of this process.
The technology could also be used to pick up the smells produced by bacteria and pathogens as they break down foods, helping to increase product safety.
"The potential uses of smell technology are endless," said Josep Samitier, the coordinator of the Spot-Nosed project. Researchers at project are using nanotechnology to developing biosensors to mimic the way human and animal noses respond to different odours.
The researchers claim that the nose biosensor is capable of detecting odours at concentration that would be imperceptible to the human nose.
"Our tests showed that the nanobiosensors will react to a few molecules of odorant with a very high degree of accuracy. Some of the results of the trials surpassed even our expectations," Samitier said.
The accuracy was achieved by using proteins corresponding to olfactory receptors in animal noses. A layer of the proteins is placed on a microelectrode, Data is then measured by determining the reaction when the proteins come into contact with different odors.
The Spot-Nosed researchers copied the genes from several hundred different proteins from rats, which they claim is enough to determine almost any type of smell due to the number of reactions the proteins produce. The human nose uses 1,000 different proteins to allow the brain to recognize 10,000 different smells.
While the project has to date focused on replicating the physical reaction that takes place in animal noses to determine odours, the researchers say that their next step will be to develop an electronic nose that recognizes smells using high accuracy electronic instrumentation on a nanoscale level.
While the project has so far focused on replicating the physical reaction that takes place in animal noses, the researchers now plan to work on developing the instrumentation and software tools necessary for an electronic nose to recognise smells.
The approach is being developed and tested by researchers in Spain, France and Italy under the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) project.
The total funding for the project is about €2.3m, with €1.5 of that from the EU.