Monday, October 29, 2007

Can you smell sweat?   posted by Razib @ 10/29/2007 07:20:00 PM

Genetic Elucidation of Human Hyperosmia to Isovaleric Acid (Open Access):
Humans can accurately discern thousands of odors, yet there is considerable inter-individual variation in the ability to detect different odors, with individuals exhibiting low sensitivity (hyposmia), high sensitivity (hyperosmia), or even "blindness" (anosmia) to particular odors. Such differences are thought to stem from genetic differences in olfactory receptor (OR) genes...which have both functional and inactive alleles in the population...Here, we provide evidence that a particular segregating OR gene is related to sensitivity to a sweaty odorant, isovaleric acid. We show that hypersensitivity towards this odorant is seen predominantly in individuals who carry at least one copy of the intact allele. Furthermore, we demonstrate that this hyperosmia is a complex trait, being driven by additional factors affecting general olfactory acuity. Our results highlight a functional role of segregating pseudogenes in human olfactory variability, and constitute a step towards deciphering the genetic basis of human olfactory variability.

PLoS also has a nice write up for the lay audience, with a more frank title.

Related: A universal olfactory aesthetic?, A world of sensory difference, PTC taste, balancing selection?, PTC, part II, Taste & behavior genetics, Genetics of taste and Slow & diverse food.