Most people will go to great lengths to prevent body odor. Now scientists have identified a bacterial enzyme that is a source of the pungent smell that we know as body odor, or BO. The enzyme was found by researchers who previously identified the bacteria that live in human armpits, and are the likely cause of the stinky smell. The research may aid in the development of products that can effectively stop body odor where it starts.
Like other parts of the human body, the skin and armpit have been colonized by bacterial communities, a microbiome. These new findings, which have been published in Scientific Reports, have also shown that some bacteria in this community have evolved to generate molecules that contribute to body odor.
"Solving the structure of this 'BO enzyme' has allowed us to pinpoint the molecular step inside certain bacteria that makes the odor molecules," said the co-first author of the study Dr. Michelle Rudden, who is a member of Professor Gavin Thomas' group at the University of York's Department of Biology. "This is a key advancement in understanding how body odor works and will enable the development of targeted inhibitors that stop BO production at the source without disrupting the armpit microbiome."
One of the main components of the skin microbiome is a bacterium called Staphylococcus hominis. The researchers noted that the enzyme was being produced by S. hominis long before Homo sapiens emerged. That could indicate that body odor had some important role in communication or interaction among primates that came before modern humans.
This study was part of a collaboration between Unilever R&D and the University of York. "This research was a real eye-opener. It was fascinating to discover that a key odor-forming enzyme exists in only a select few armpit bacteria - and evolved there tens of millions of years ago," said study co-author Dr. Gordon James of Unilever.