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Concept: Body odor


Female mosquitoes display preferences for certain individuals over others, which is determined by differences in volatile chemicals produced by the human body and detected by mosquitoes. Body odour can be controlled genetically but the existence of a genetic basis for differential attraction to insects has never been formally demonstrated. This study investigated heritability of attractiveness to mosquitoes by evaluating the response of Aedes aegypti (=Stegomyia aegypti) mosquitoes to odours from the hands of identical and non-identical twins in a dual-choice assay. Volatiles from individuals in an identical twin pair showed a high correlation in attractiveness to mosquitoes, while non-identical twin pairs showed a significantly lower correlation. Overall, there was a strong narrow-sense heritability of 0.62 (SE 0.124) for relative attraction and 0.67 (0.354) for flight activity based on the average of ten measurements. The results demonstrate an underlying genetic component detectable by mosquitoes through olfaction. Understanding the genetic basis for attractiveness could create a more informed approach to repellent development.

Concepts: Genetics, Mosquito, Human body, Twin, Aedes aegypti, Aedes, Odor, Body odor


Whether olfaction recognizes odorants by their shape, their molecular vibrations, or both remains an open and controversial question. A convenient way to address it is to test for odor character differences between deuterated and undeuterated odorant isotopomers, since these have identical ground-state conformations but different vibrational modes. In a previous paper (Franco et al. (2011) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:9, 3797-802) we showed that fruit flies can recognize the presence of deuterium in odorants by a vibrational mechanism. Here we address the question of whether humans too can distinguish deuterated and undeuterated odorants. A previous report (Keller and Vosshall (2004) Nat Neurosci 7:4, 337-8) indicated that naive subjects are incapable of distinguishing acetophenone and d-8 acetophenone. Here we confirm and extend those results to trained subjects and gas-chromatography [GC]-pure odorants. However, we also show that subjects easily distinguish deuterated and undeuterated musk odorants purified to GC-pure standard. These results are consistent with a vibrational component in human olfaction.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Olfaction, Perfume, Odor, Flavor, Aroma compound, Distinguish, Body odor


Human body odors have important communicative functions regarding genetic identity, immune fitness and general health, but an expanding body of research suggests they can also communicate information about an individual’s emotional state. In the current study, we tested whether axillary odors obtained from women experiencing psychosocial stress could negatively influence personality judgments of warmth and competence made about other women depicted in video scenarios. 44 female donors provided three types of sweat samples: untreated exercise sweat, untreated stress sweat and treated stress sweat. After a ‘washout’ period, a commercial unscented anti-perspirant product was applied to the left axilla only to evaluate whether ‘blocking’ the stress signal would improve the social evaluations. A separate group of male and female evaluators (n = 120) rated the women in the videos while smelling one of the three types of sweat samples. Women in the video scenes were rated as being more stressed by both men and women when smelling the untreated vs. treated stress sweat. For men only, the women in the videos were rated as less confident, trustworthy and competent when smelling both the untreated stress and exercise sweat in contrast to the treated stress sweat. Women’s social judgments were unaffected by sniffing the pads. The results have implications for influencing multiple types of professional and personal social interactions and impression management and extend our understanding of the social communicative function of body odors.

Concepts: Male, Female, Gender, Sociology, Emotion, Communication, Body odor, Impression management


Each person expresses a potentially unique subset of ∼400 different olfactory receptor subtypes. Given that the receptors we express partially determine the odors we smell, it follows that each person may have a unique nose; to capture this, we devised a sensitive test of olfactory perception we termed the “olfactory fingerprint.” Olfactory fingerprints relied on matrices of perceived odorant similarity derived from descriptors applied to the odorants. We initially fingerprinted 89 individuals using 28 odors and 54 descriptors. We found that each person had a unique olfactory fingerprint (P < 10(-10)), which was odor specific but descriptor independent. We could identify individuals from this pool using randomly selected sets of 7 odors and 11 descriptors alone. Extrapolating from this data, we determined that using 34 odors and 35 descriptors we could individually identify each of the 7 billion people on earth. Olfactory perception, however, fluctuates over time, calling into question our proposed perceptual readout of presumably stable genetic makeup. To test whether fingerprints remain informative despite this temporal fluctuation, building on the linkage between olfactory receptors and HLA, we hypothesized that olfactory perception may relate to HLA. We obtained olfactory fingerprints and HLA typing for 130 individuals, and found that olfactory fingerprint matching using only four odorants was significantly related to HLA matching (P < 10(-4)), such that olfactory fingerprints can save 32% of HLA tests in a population screen (P < 10(-6)). In conclusion, a precise measure of olfactory perception reveals meaningful nonolfactory genetic information.

Concepts: Receptor, Sense, Olfaction, Olfactory receptor, Odor, Aroma compound, Fingerprint, Body odor


Unlike current chemical trace detection technology, dogs actively sniff to acquire an odor sample. Flow visualization experiments with an anatomically-similar 3D printed dog’s nose revealed the external aerodynamics during canine sniffing, where ventral-laterally expired air jets entrain odorant-laden air toward the nose, thereby extending the “aerodynamic reach” for inspiration of otherwise inaccessible odors. Chemical sampling and detection experiments quantified two modes of operation with the artificial nose-active sniffing and continuous inspiration-and demonstrated an increase in odorant detection by a factor of up to 18 for active sniffing. A 16-fold improvement in detection was demonstrated with a commercially-available explosives detector by applying this bio-inspired design principle and making the device “sniff” like a dog. These lessons learned from the dog may benefit the next-generation of vapor samplers for explosives, narcotics, pathogens, or even cancer, and could inform future bio-inspired designs for optimized sampling of odor plumes.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Olfaction, Odor, Artificial insemination, Dog, Aroma compound, Body odor


Using olfactory molecular specificity, we examined the inheritance of parental traumatic exposure, a phenomenon that has been frequently observed, but not understood. We subjected F0 mice to odor fear conditioning before conception and found that subsequently conceived F1 and F2 generations had an increased behavioral sensitivity to the F0-conditioned odor, but not to other odors. When an odor (acetophenone) that activates a known odorant receptor (Olfr151) was used to condition F0 mice, the behavioral sensitivity of the F1 and F2 generations to acetophenone was complemented by an enhanced neuroanatomical representation of the Olfr151 pathway. Bisulfite sequencing of sperm DNA from conditioned F0 males and F1 naive offspring revealed CpG hypomethylation in the Olfr151 gene. In addition, in vitro fertilization, F2 inheritance and cross-fostering revealed that these transgenerational effects are inherited via parental gametes. Our findings provide a framework for addressing how environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.

Concepts: DNA, Psychology, Molecular biology, In vitro fertilisation, Olfaction, Odor, Aroma compound, Body odor


Mosquitoes display biting preferences among different sites of the human body. In addition to height or convection currents, body odour may play a role in the selection of these biting sites. Previous studies have shown that skin emanations are important host-finding cues for mosquitoes. In this study, skin emanations were collected from armpits, hands and feet; the volatile profiles were analysed and tested for their attractiveness to the malaria mosquito Anopheles coluzzii. Skin emanations collected from armpits were less attractive to An. coluzzii compared to hands or/and feet. The difference may have been caused by deodorant residues, which were found in the armpit samples and not in those of hands and feet. In a subsequent experiment, volunteers were asked to avoid using skincare products for five days, and thereafter, no differences in attractiveness of the body parts to mosquitoes were found. The detected deodorant compound isopropyl tetradecanoate inhibited mosquito landings in a repellent bioassay. It is concluded that the volatiles emanated from different body parts induced comparable levels of attraction in mosquitoes, and that skincare products may reduce a person’s attractiveness to mosquitoes.

Concepts: Malaria, Anopheles, Mosquito, Difference, Human body, Vector, Insect repellent, Body odor


Female hawkmoths, Manduca sexta, use olfactory cues to locate nectar sources and oviposition sites. We investigated if the behavioral significance of odorants is represented already in the antennal lobe, the first olfactory neuropil of the insect’s brain. Using in vivo calcium imaging, we first established a functional map of the dorsal surface of the antennal lobe by stimulating the moths with 80 ecologically relevant and chemically diverse monomolecular odorants. We were able to address 23 olfactory glomeruli, functional subunits of the antennal lobe, in each individual female. Next, we studied the relevance of the same odorants with two-choice experiments (odorant versus solvent) in a wind tunnel. Depending on odorant identity, naive moths made attempts to feed or to oviposit at the scented targets. A correlation of wind tunnel results with glomerular activation patterns revealed that feeding and oviposition behaviors are encoded in the moth’s antennal lobe by the activation of distinct groups of glomeruli.

Concepts: Brain, Olfaction, Perfume, Odor, Lepidoptera, Aroma compound, Body odor, Moths


BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorders comprise a range of neurodevelopmental pathologies characterized, among other symptoms, by impaired social interactions. Individuals with this diagnosis are reported to often identify people by repetitively sniffing pieces of clothing or the body odor of family members. Since body odors are known to initiate and mediate many different social behaviors, smelling the body odor of a family member might constitute a sensory-based action promoting social contact. In light of this, we hypothesized that the body odor of a family member would facilitate the appearance of automatic imitation, an essential social skill known to be impaired in autism. METHODS: We recruited 20 autistic and 20 typically developing children. Body odors were collected from the children’s mothers' axillae. A child observed a model (their mother or a stranger mother) execute (or not) a reach-to-grasp action toward an object. Subsequently, she performed the same action. The object was imbued with the child’s mother’s odor, a stranger mother’s odor, or no odor. The actions were videotaped, and movement time was calculated post hoc via a digitalization technique. RESULTS: Automatic imitation effects-expressed in terms of total movement time reduction-appear in autistic children only when exposed to objects paired with their own mother’s odor. CONCLUSIONS: The maternal odor, which conveys a social message otherwise neglected, helps autistic children to covertly imitate the actions of others. Our results represent a starting point holding theoretical and practical relevance for the development of new strategies to enhance communication and social behavior among autistic individuals.

Concepts: Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS, Odor, Social behavior, Body odor


Based on the logic of mutual competition between cravings and odours for limited-capacity resources, this study investigated whether a simple olfactory task, involving a brief odour exposure, could reduce food cravings. In support, Experiment 1 showed that smelling a neutral unfamiliar odorant reduced cravings for highly desired food items, relative to a comparison auditory task and a no-task control condition. Experiment 2 replicated these findings specifically for chocolate cravings, which can be particularly problematic. Thus olfactory stimulation offers potential scope for curbing unwanted food cravings.

Concepts: Olfaction, Odor, Flavor, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose, Olfactometer, Aroma compound, Body odor