Scientists discover why sweaty underarms stink

| Saturday, April 4, 2015 - 16:57
First Published |

Scientists discover why sweaty underarms stink

Body odour is a pet peeve  most of us have. Dousing deodorants to prevent body odour is a common habit all of us have but most of the deodorant hardly last for a long time. However, a new research may help manufacturers design a different type of deodorants that will keep body odour away.

Scientists at the University of York  have found the exact reason for your body odour. They claim that  a set of unique enzymes in a bacterium are responsible for the smell. 
Body odour is caused by bacteria on the skin breaking down naturally secreted molecules contained within sweat. 

Researchers studied the underarm microbiome and identified a unique set of enzymes in the bacterium Staphylococcus hominis that is effective at breaking down sweat molecules into compounds known as thioalcohols, an important component of the characteristic body odour smell.

The researchers assessed the ability of over 150 bacterial isolates from underarm skin samples to produce malodourants. 

They then identified the genes encoding the proteins responsible for producing the thioalchohols, which are pungent in tiny amounts – as little as 1 part per trillion. 
One particular gene found in S hominis was also found in two other species of Staphylococcus, which were also shown to be strong thioalcohol producers.

To confirm that these genes were necessary and sufficient for malodour production, the team moved them into the lab bacterium Escherichia coli, which was then able to produce the body odour smell when grown in the presence of human sweat molecules. 

‘This work has significantly advanced our understanding of the specific biochemical processes involved in body odour production,’said Dr Dan Bawdon from the University of York, who led the research. 

It was surprising that this particular body odour pathway is governed by only a small number of the many bacterial species residing in the underarm. 

‘We have opened up the possibility of inhibiting body odour formation using compounds designed to target the specific proteins controlling the release of malodourants,’ he said.

While these thioalcohols were long known to be involved in body odour, little was known about the way they were produced by bacteria in the underarm. 

Traditional deodorants and antiperspirants act by non-selectively killing underarm bacteria or by blocking our sweat glands, respectively. 

The researchers hope that this new research can be used to produce compounds that specifically target thioalcohol production, leaving the underarm microbiota intact.

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