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Scientists ID Culprit Behind Your Stinky Armpits

Certain bacteria appear to be key to body odor
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2015 8:53 AM CDT
Scientists ID Culprit Behind Your Stinky Armpits
Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia wipes the sweat from the face as she plays Serena Williams at the Australian Open this year.   (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

(Newser) – Bad BO? It's not your fault: Scientists have identified the bacteria you should blame. The smell of your armpits is a result of a clash between sweat and bacteria that creates what NPR calls "the mothership of body odor." Odorless molecules in your sweat are "broken down inside the bacteria," a scientist says. The result is thioalcohols, which are "very, very pungent" as they evaporate from your underarm. So pungent, in fact, that they smell even when they account for just one part per trillion of a substance, the University of York reports. To determine which bacteria caused the worst smell, scientists tracked the amount of thioalcohol spawned by different kinds of bacteria. Among the most unpleasant: Staphylococcus hominis, NPR reports.

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Researchers didn't stop there: They noticed that a gene in S. hominis was also present in other smell-producing bacteria, and when they inserted the gene into E. coli, that bacterium started to smell, too. So what's the point of the odorous research, which left the scientists "not that popular"? "We have opened up the possibility of inhibiting body odor formation using compounds designed to target the specific proteins controlling the release of malodorants," the scientist notes. In other words, the findings could lead to a better deodorant, perhaps one that stops the production of thioalcohols, NPR notes. In fact, Unilever helped fund the project. (Believe it or not, Google has also been working on an advanced deodorant.)

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