Human Odor May Be New Tool for Identification

November 13, 2008 06:52 AM
by Rachel Balik
A study found that a change in diet did not alter mice’s ability to recognize one another’s scent, suggesting that odor could be as individual as DNA or fingerprints.

Big Brother Could Be Smelling You

A study at the Monell Science Chemical Senses Center found that diet could not mask the natural, individual odor emitted by mice in a study. The study’s lead author, Jae Kwak, suggests that the results imply that body odor could be as effective as fingerprints for identifying people.

The scientists conducted the study by training mice to identify other mice via their genetic odortypes as well as by diet-influenced smells. LiveScience explains that food odors can be detected in urine and sweat, but that animals also emit a specific, genetically determined odortype. The experimenters found that the sensor animals were able to identify other mice by their odortype, regardless of what they had consumed.

The research therefore indicates that a change in diet does not compromise or significantly contribute to the unique smell emitted by an individual.

Related Topic: The birth control pill, pheromones and odor

Odors are one way that human beings pick mates. While the study implies that a person’s odor is consistent, a recent study suggested that birth control pills can alter a women’s ability to detect the odors of men that were best suited to them. Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are one of the determinants of a person’s odor, and typically, healthier relationships exist between two partners who have different MHC genes. However, women on the Pill are more to likely choose a partner with similar MHC genes.

Information about MHC genes may be expressed by pheromones, theorized to play a large part in animal attraction. There is still some debate on whether human pheromones actually exist. However, scientists increasingly believe that humans can communicate via pheromones, a biology student at Bryn Mawr College writes.

Reference: “Genetically-Based Olfactory Signatures Persist Despite Dietary Variation”

The full text of the mice odor recognition study, “Genetically-Based Olfactory Signatures Persist Despite Dietary Variation,” is available at the open source science journal PLoS ONE. Previously, it was believed that the changes in stress or diet could so alter body odor that it might hinder animals’ ability to recognize one another. However, the study’s authors thought that this was unlikely to be the case, noting that it was essential for animals to identify one another by smell. The study confirmed their hypothesis.

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