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Science Media Centre: Smelly genes identified by NZ researchers


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Changing the name of a rose might not alter its smell, but a few tweaks in you DNA could, according to new research from Kiwi scientists.

NOSE!The genetic underpinnings of why some people perceive odours very differently have been highlighted in a pair of studies published today in the journal Current Biology.  Scientists from Plant & Food Research tested nearly 200 people for their sensitivity for ten different chemical compounds that are commonly found in foods. They then analysed participants DNA to identify genetic variations that were associated with smell sensitivity for given compound.

They  found that for four of the ten odours tested, there was indeed a genetic association, suggesting that differences in the genetic make-up determine whether a person can or cannot smell these compounds. The smells of these four odourants are familiar, for those who can smell them (though their names may not be): malt (isobutyraldehyde), apple (ß-damascenone), blue cheese (2-heptanone), and ß-ionone, which smells floral to some people and is particularly abundant in violets.

“We were surprised how many odours had genes associated with them.” author Jeremy McRae said in a media release. “If this extends to other odours, then we might expect everyone to have their own unique set of smells that they are sensitive to. These smells are found in foods and drinks that people encounter every day, such as tomatoes and apples. This might mean that when people sit down to eat a meal, they each experience it in their own personalised way.”

The research has received international media attention, with examples including:

LA Times: If beer or blue cheese smell good to you, thank your DNA
Washington Post: Genetics can determine why we smell certain odors differently, studies find
Healthline News: Hate Cilantro? Can’t Smell Apples? Blame Your Genes
Nature News: Sense for scents traced down to genes
Herald Sun: Smells are in your genes

Local coverage includes:

Dominion Post: DNA key to getting the perfect meal
New Zealand Herald: Sense of smell – it’s in our genes
TV3 News: Smells are in your genes
MSN News: Study shows smells are in your genes


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