If there’s one thing that reaches across all walks of life and nationalities and is something most try to avoid is body odor. Scientists have discovered a unique enzyme that is responsible for the smell we call body odor. Past research showed that there are only a few bacteria that live in the armpits of humans that are the real culprits behind body odor.
Researchers from the University of York worked with scientists from Unilever, which is the company behind some of the most popular brands of deodorants, to discover a so-called “BO enzyme.” That specific enzyme is only found within certain bacteria and is responsible for the characteristic armpit odor. The research specifically highlighted how the bacteria evolved a specialized design to produce key molecules humans perceive as body odor.
Researchers say that understanding the “BO enzyme” has allowed them to pinpoint the molecular step in the bacteria that makes the odor molecules. Pinpointing that molecular step is a key advancement in understanding how body odor works and towards developing targeted inhibitors to stop BO production at the source without disrupting the armpit microbiome. The specific microbe responsible for body odor is Staphylococcus hominis.
Researchers note that the microbe was present in S. hominis long before the evolution of modern humans. The team also notes that the microbe may have played an important role in societal communication among ancestral primates.
The discovery of a key odor-forming enzyme in a few select bacteria opens the door for possible deodorants in the future that eliminate the possibility of body odor. This odor may have been important in our primate ancestors but is certainly frowned on in modern society. There is no indication of when the research might turn into new treatments.