- Our unique genetic makeup could influence how we perceive different smells, with some odors being detected more strongly due to specific genetic variations.
- Research found a correlation between sensitivity towards four specific smells: apple, malt, blue cheese, and violets and certain genetic variants.
- Every individual might have a “unique set of smells” that they are more sensitive to, due to their specific genetic structure, personalizing our daily interactions with food and drinks.
- Being sensitive to one scent does not predict the sensitivity towards the others, and these variations are based on the genetic structure located in or close to genes that code for odorant receptors.
- Understanding the compounds people can sense in food and other products could shape future product design, potentially leading to personalized food and items based on an individual’s smell sensitivity.
Research shows that our unique genetic makeup could be responsible for how we perceive different smells. This research reveals that certain odors are perceived differently due to specific genetic variations among individuals.
Diversity in Smell Sensitivity
Researchers exposed approximately 200 individuals to a range of ten unique odors as part of the study. Besides noting participants’ reactions to these smells, the research team also conducted a thorough analysis of each participant’s DNA. They discovered correlation between the sensitivity towards four specific odors and certain genetic variants.
The four specific smells identified in their findings were apple, malt, blue cheese, and violets. Strikingly, these results suggest that our genes play a significant role in determining how we respond to various smells.
How Genetics Influence Our Sensory Experiences
Jeremy McRae, co-leader of the investigation, suggests that these findings might imply that everyone potentially has a “unique set of smells” that they are more sensitive to, due to their specific genetic structure. This would mean our daily interactions with common foods and drinks could be highly personalized experiences.
Interestingly, the study also unveiled that the ability to detect these four odors did not vary by geographical region. Essentially, an individual in Asia has the same likelihood of identifying these distinct smells as someone from Africa or Europe.
Genetic Variations and Smell Perception
Another key insight from the research was that being sensitive to one of these scents did not predict the sensitivity towards the others. For example, just because an individual can distinctly identify the smell of blue cheese, doesn’t guarantee they will pick up on the scent of an apple.
The genetic variations that determine the ability to detect these particular smells are located in or close to genes that are responsible for coding odorant receptors. These receptors are found on the surface of the sensory nerve cells present in our nose. As chemical compounds waft through the air, these receptors pick up on them, and send a signal to the brain. This is what we then identify and perceive as smell.
Implications for Food Design and Personalized Products
Project co-leader Richard Newcomb suggests that understanding the compounds people can sense in food and other products could inform and shape the future design of these products. Companies might tailor foods and items more accurately to consumer’s sensitivity, essentially developing products personalized for individual’s taste and smell.
More resources can be found on smell and smell disorders at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website.