Study: Different Odor Receptors Mean We Each Perceive Scents Differently

Ever wonder why you've always found the stench of goat cheese revolting but your friend doesn't? Thank your odor receptors for that. Duke University researchers have published a new study in Nature Neuroscience concluding that no two people smell things alike. Each human has around 400 odor receptors, and in each human, the odor receptors differ in genetic variation, which explains why we each perceive smells so differently.

Here's the cool part: Even one slight variation in one amino acid can make the huge impact. So even if you might have a similar genetic makeup to your mom, you might still hate the latest celebrity perfume she's rocking because the amino acid on one or your genes is different. (No, we're not saying you should trash her for wearing it. Keep your opinions on the DL.)

Those 400 odor receptors can have over 900,000 variations. So between two people, there is at least a 30 percent difference among receptors, if not more. And one last finding, perhaps the biggest one from this study: out of those 400 odor receptors, the Duke scientists identified 27 that responded significantly to one or more odorants.

So to break it down in lay terms — what you think smells like THIS:

Could smell like THIS to everyone else:

The next goal for scientists could be to discover what particular chemicals activate certain odor receptors that are more likely to be pleasant. Maybe scientists will come closer to unlocking the secret to getting rid of unpleasant body odors — or, changing our odor receptors around so we can enjoy body odors more. But this research is so much more important than "creating pleasant scents for everyone."

Earlier in 2013, further scent studies were published with similarly groundbreaking results. A psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison produced research results showing that anxiety was associated with negatively perceiving scents. And just five months ago, a University of Pennsylvania study aimed to train dogs to detect what odors indicated ovarian cancer — which then helped scientists come closer to figuring out what chemicals are linked to ovarian cancer. Smell on, people.


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