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Scientists identified the molecular process that makes your armpits smell bad

Posted July 6, 2018

It‘s summer, it‘s hot and you are smelling bad. Foul body odour is something all of us have to deal with, especially when it is getting warmer outside. Now scientists at the University of York have identified key step in production of BO. Researchers say that these findings could bring us closer to a more effective kind of deodorant and other smell-fighting products.

Only a small number of the bacteria on our skin are actually responsible for bad smells. Image credit: HIBIKIFL via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

We all know how bad body odour comes to be. We sweat, bacteria likes sweat and consumes it, and then it produces something that smells really bad. But the exact mechanism is actually not well understood. Now scientists unravelled a key part of the molecular process by which armpit bacteria produce the substances, smell of which we recognize as BO. While there are many species of bacteria living in your armpits, it turns out that Staphylococcus is the one responsible for the smell. This is quite weird, because bacteria takes odourless compounds and makes them into something that smells so strong.

Human sweat does have a little bit of smell, but it is really not that bad and it is very weak. Bacteria are not interested in all the sweat. Instead, it consumes just some compounds from it that are actually odourless. Now scientists have managed to decode the structure of the molecule, known as a “transport” protein, that allows bacteria to identify and swallow up the odourless compounds secreted in sweat. Disrupting this process would mean that bacteria cannot recognize these compounds, consume them and emit that pungent smell. Targeting this protein would make a much more effective BO control, because current deodorants rely on actually killing the bacteria, despite the fact that only a small number of the bacteria in our armpits are actually responsible for bad smells.

Scientists managed to see how transport protein works by crystallising it in laboratories. Results of this research may even have implications in the medical science. Professor Simon Newstead, co-author of the study from the University of Oxford, said: “The new insights into its structure may also provide clues as to how this family of transporters bind other diverse peptides – important information as a similar membrane transporter is used in humans for intestinal absorption of drugs in our small intestines”. Scientists will still have to perform some research until products can be developed.

Fighting body odour is a real chore, but you can do it. Shower every day, use antiperspirant, exercise with sweat-wicking clothes. Good personal hygiene is like being polite to strangers – it just pays off.


Source: University of York

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