Scientists identify ancient enzyme that makes body odor so strong

Researchers have focused on the source of our bad smell.

a close-up of a map: BO can be traced back to a specific enzyme.  York University / Unilever

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BO can be traced back to a specific enzyme. York University / Unilever

The same team that identified the handful of bacteria responsible for human body odor has now gone a step further and identified the enzyme that operates within those organisms. It is a cysteine-thiol lyase (CT lyase) enzyme within bacteria like Staphylococcus hominis that produces the actual smelly molecules, which have inspired an entire industry of deodorants to contain them.


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“This is a key advance in understanding how body odor works and will allow the development of specific inhibitors that stop BO production at the source without disrupting the armpit microbiome,” said York University researcher Dr. Michelle Rudden, in a statement.

Rudden is a co-author of an article on the enzyme published Monday in Scientific Reports. The researchers worked collaboratively with scientists at personal care giant Unilever, who can use the new information in developing new deodorant products.

Perhaps the most interesting finding from the research is that these stinking enzymes have been with humans since, well … since before we were human. The researchers say it was during the journey in our primate ancestors before the evolution of modern humans and that it may have played a key role in social communication; Primates have been known to use smells to send a message, such as “go back.”

© York University / Unilever

BO can be traced back to a specific enzyme.

“This research was a true revelation,” said Unilever co-author Dr. Gordon James. “It was fascinating to discover that there is a key enzyme that forms odors in just a few armpit bacteria and evolved there tens of millions of years ago.”

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