Researchers finally know what causes unpleasant odors to occur in our armpits. The long pondered over mechanism is finally understood by scientists now.
Researchers working at the University of York have linked the source of bad odor in armpits to a specific enzyme that occurs in a microbe often found in a person’s armpit.
The researchers tested whether or not they were right about the chemical by transferring it to another kind of microbe found also in the armpit. Once they did so, they found to their surprise that the microbe too began to dispel unpleasant smells.
The work is important for future developments in deodorant and antiperspirant making. Developers can use this research to make even more effective solutions for bad odor in armpits.
This research leads scientists to believe that humans may have evolved to inherit the mephitic microbes. Professor Gavin Thomas is a senior microbiologist on the research team. He says though they have discovered how the odor is produced they have yet to discover why this happens.
Naturally, human bodies do not produce sharp body odors directly. Such odors are known as thioalcohol and are secreted as a by-product. These by-products only come about when the microbes living on the skin consume other compounds they find on the surface.
Previously, The York team discovered that not all microbes on the skin produce thioalcohol. Further research, however, revealed that on species of microbes that dwell in armpits, Staphylococcus hominis, is the major culprit for the problem. The bacterium consumes a compound called Cys-Gly-3M3SH and releases putrid odors that are then released by sweat glands.
Human bodies have two types of glands that secrete sweat. Eccrine glands are the ones that cover the surface of our bodies and are open on the skin. These glands help cool our bodies down when we feel hot during warmer weather. Apocrine glands, however, open in hair follicles instead and are present in specific places like nipples, armpits, and genitals. Researchers have yet to find what purpose these serve.
The York scientists have since written in the Scientific Reports journal describing how they researched staphylococcus hominis to understand how it produced thioalcohols. They found that an enzyme turns Cys-Gly-3M3SH into a putrid thioalcohol, 3M3SH, which causes bad odor in armpits.
Thomas describes that the process takes place when the bacteria consume the molecule and eats parts of it and spits out the rest. The molecules they spit out cause the body odor we experience.
He says our bodies are very experienced at smelling out these thioalcohols even at very small thresholds. They have a very specific onion-like, cheesy smell that is not pleasant to inhale.
Michelle Rudden among other researchers on the study then further studied genetic relationships among several staphylococcus species. The analysis figured out that only a few inherit the body odor enzyme from a very ancient ancestor microbe from about 60m years before.
Thomas says since apocrine glands emit body odor-producing compounds from puberty onwards, such smells might have been essential in crafting humanity. The process has been around for years and before we began employing deodorants and antiperspirants, people smelled bad.