Academics from The University of Manchester and the University of Bari in Italy have created a biosensor that uses an odorant binding protein, found in nose mucus.
Those proteins work receptors, helping us to smell.
The team has found a method of manufacturing those proteins in quantities that would allow them to be used in biosensors and have developed ways to change the way the proteins react so they can recognise different chemicals.
Using a type of transistor, incorporating the proteins, scientists were able to measure changes in current as the proteins reacted to odours.
In effect, the machine 'smells' odours before sending a message identifying what it is.
The system is so sensitive, it could soon surpass the power of the human nose.
The university's Professor Krishna Persaud, said: "It has been challenging to get machines to be able to differentiate between smells that are mirror images of each other, which was a real barrier to creating machines which are able to smell as well or better than humans.
"This will allow much better sensors to be developed and these could have many uses in industry.
"We shall be able to create biosensors which can tell when food has gone off, or even smell how much pollution is in the atmosphere."