Life in the Pits: scientists identify key enzyme behind BO
Scientists have discovered a unique enzyme responsible for the pungent characteristic smell we call body odour or BO.
Researchers from the University of York have previously shown that only a few bacteria in your armpit are the real culprits behind BO. Now the same team, in collaboration with Unilever scientists, has gone a step further to discover a unique “BO enzyme” found only within these bacteria and responsible for the characteristic armpit odour.
This new research highlights how particular bacteria have evolved a specialised enzyme to produce some of the key molecules we recognise as BO.
Co-first author Dr Michelle Rudden from the group of Prof. Gavin Thomas in the University of York’s Department of Biology, said: “Solving the structure of this ‘BO enzyme’ has allowed us to pinpoint the molecular step inside certain bacteria that makes the odour molecules. This is a key advancement in understanding how body odour works, and will enable the development of targeted inhibitors that stop BO production at source without disrupting the armpit microbiome.”
Your armpit hosts a diverse community of bacteria that is part of your natural skin microbiome. This research highlights Staphylococcus hominis as one of the main microbes behind body odour.
The History of BO
Furthermore, the researchers say that this “BO enzyme” was present in S. hominis long before the emergence of Homo sapiens as a species, suggesting that body odour existed prior to the evolution of modern humans, and may have had an important role in societal communication among ancestral primates.
This research represents an important discovery for Unilever R&D, made possible by its long-standing academic-industry collaboration with the University of York. Unilever co-author Dr Gordon James said: “This research was a real eye-opener. It was fascinating to discover that a key odour-forming enzyme exists in only a select few armpit bacteria – and evolved there tens of millions of years ago.”
‘The molecular basis of thioalcohol production in human body odour’ is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The research was funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) through a LINK scheme awarded to Professor Gavin Thomas in collaboration with Dr Gordon James of Unilever R&D.
Where relevant, these actions are subject to the appropriate consultations and approvals.
This announcement may contain forward-looking statements, including ‘forward-looking statements’ within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Words such as ‘will’, ‘aim’, ‘expects’, ‘anticipates’, ‘intends’, ‘looks’, ‘believes’, ‘vision’, or the negative of these terms and other similar expressions of future performance or results, and their negatives, are intended to identify such forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are based upon current expectations and assumptions regarding anticipated developments and other factors affecting the Unilever Group (the ‘Group’). They are not historical facts, nor are they guarantees of future performance.
Because these forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, there are important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. Among other risks and uncertainties, the material or principal factors which could cause actual results to differ materially are: Unilever’s global brands not meeting consumer preferences; Unilever’s ability to innovate and remain competitive; Unilever’s investment choices in its portfolio management; the effect of climate change on Unilever’s business; Unilever’s ability to find sustainable solutions to its plastic packaging; significant changes or deterioration in customer relationships; the recruitment and retention of talented employees; disruptions in our supply chain and distribution; increases or volatility in the cost of raw materials and commodities; the production of safe and high quality products; secure and reliable IT infrastructure; execution of acquisitions, divestitures and business transformation projects; economic, social and political risks and natural disasters; financial risks; failure to meet high and ethical standards; and managing regulatory, tax and legal matters. A number of these risks have increased as a result of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this document. Except as required by any applicable law or regulation, the Group expressly disclaims any obligation or undertaking to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statements contained herein to reflect any change in the Group’s expectations with regard thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based.
Further details of potential risks and uncertainties affecting the Group are described in the Group’s filings with the London Stock Exchange, Euronext Amsterdam and the US Securities and Exchange Commission, including in the Unilever Annual Report and Accounts 2020.