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The scent of lily of the valley cannot be easily bottled. For decades companies that make soap, lotions and perfumes have relied on a chemical called bourgeonal to imbue their products with the sweet smell of the little white flowers.

A tiny drop can be extraordinarily intense.

If you can smell it at all, that is. For a small percentage of people, it fails to register as anything.

Similarly, the earthy compound 2-ethylfenchol, present in beets, is so powerful for some people that a small chunk of the root vegetable smells like a heap of dirt. For others, that same compound is as undetectable as the scent of bottled water.

These -- and dozens of other differences in scent perception -- are detailed in a new study, "Genetic variation across the human olfactory receptor repertoire alters odor perception," published May 7 in the journal PNAS.

The work provides new evidence of how extraordinarily different one person's "smellscape" can be from another's. It's not that some people are generally better smellers, like someone else may have better eyesight, it's that any one person might experience certain scents more intensely than others.

"We're all smelling things a little bit differently," said Steven Munger, director of The Center for Smell and Taste at the University of Florida, who was not involved in the study.

The scientists who conducted the study looked for patterns in 300 subjects' genetic code that could explain these olfactory differences. They were surprised to find that a single genetic mutation was linked to differences in perception of the lily of the valley scent, beet's earthiness, the intensity of whiskey's smokiness along with dozens of other scents.

Genes are not the only determinant of scent. Rachel Herz, who studies the psychological science of smell at Brown University, calls the new study "great and important" but notes that there are other factors at play, including attention, past associations and expectations.

ActiveStyle on 05/20/2019

Print Headline: Smell study finds that sniffers differ in DNA

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