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Smelly Genes

October 1, 2007

New genetic evidence explains why each person perceives odors differently.


How genes control smell. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Have you ever noticed that what smells good to one person can smell awful to someone else? Take for instance—believe it or not– the smell of men’s body odor – caused in part by testosterone derivatives found in sweat. To some these compounds smell sweet and to others they reek of stale urine. And some people can’t smell them at all. Neurobiologist Hiro Matsunami of Duke University and his colleagues have found genetic evidence to explain the differences in odor perception between people.

HIRO MATSUNAMI (Duke University):
We actually have identified one single gene that is actually acting in your nose to bind to these compounds.

Matsunami says a variety of genes likely control our perception of hundreds of other odors, making each person’s nose truly unique. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.