Olfaction-Inspired MCs: Molecule Mixture Shift Keying and Cross-Reactive Receptor Arrays

Vahid Jamali, Helene M. Loos, Andrea Buettner, Robert Schober, H. Vincent Poor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In this paper, we propose a novel concept for engineered molecular communication (MC) systems inspired by animal olfaction. We focus on a multi-user scenario where several transmitters wish to communicate with a central receiver. We assume that each transmitter employs a unique mixture of different types of signaling molecules to represent its message and the receiver is equipped with an array comprising $R$ different types of receptors in order to detect the emitted molecule mixtures. The design of an MC system based on orthogonal molecule-receptor pairs implies that the hardware complexity of the receiver linearly scales with the number of signaling molecule types $Q$ (i.e., $R=Q$ ). Natural olfaction systems avoid such high complexity by employing arrays of cross-reactive receptors, where each type of molecule activates multiple types of receptors and each type of receptor is predominantly activated by multiple types of molecules albeit with different activation strengths. For instance, the human olfactory system is believed to discriminate several thousands of chemicals using only a few hundred receptor types, i.e., $Q\gg R$. Motivated by this observation, we first develop an end-to-end MC channel model that accounts for the key properties of olfaction. Subsequently, we present the proposed transmitter and receiver designs. In particular, given a set of signaling molecules, we develop algorithms that allocate molecules to different transmitters and optimize the mixture alphabet for communication. Moreover, we formulate the molecule mixture recovery as a convex compressive sensing problem which can be efficiently solved via available numerical solvers. Finally, we present a comprehensive set of simulation results to evaluate the performance of the proposed MC designs revealing interesting insights regarding the design parameters. For instance, we show that mixtures comprising few types of molecules are best suited for communication since they can be more reliably detected by the cross-reactive array than one type of molecule or mixtures of many molecule types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1894-1911
Number of pages18
JournalIEEE Transactions on Communications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


  • Engineered molecular communication
  • compressive sensing
  • generalist receptors
  • molecule mixture modulation
  • odor
  • pheromone
  • transmitter and receiver design


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