Scientists from the Beiersdorf Skin Research Center in Hamburg, Germany, have identified a single protein molecule that is responsible for the odor associated with sweat. The researchers deduced that where the gene ABCC11 (MRP8) is present, populations such as Caucasians and Africans possess a strong axillary odor. According to the study, reported online in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, "The characteristic human axillary odor is formed by bacterial action on odor precursors that originate from apocrine sweat glands. Caucasians and Africans possess a strong axillary odor,whereas many Asians have only a faint acidic odor."
In the report, researchers provide evidence that the gene ABCC11 (MRP8), which encodes an apical efflux pump, is crucial for the formation of the characteristic axillary odor. In addition, they show that a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) 538G A, which is prominent among Asian people, leads to a nearly complete loss of the typical odor components in axillary sweat. The secretion of amino-acid conjugates of human-specific odorants is abolished in homozygotic carriers of the SNP, and steroidal odorants and their putative precursors are significantly reduced. Moreover, the researchers showed that ABCC11 is expressed and localized in apocrine sweat glands.
According to the company, this data points to a key function of ABCC11 in the secretion of odorants and their precursors from apocrine sweat glands. A strong positive selection in mate choice for low-odorant partners with a dysfunctional ABCC11 gene seems a plausible explanation for this striking frequency of a loss-of-function allele.
This study was carried out with researchers at Givaudan and, according to Beiersdorf, the research will close a large gap in its understanding of the formation of body odor. The company plans to utilize this research to develop products that counteract the formation of odor at an early stage, specifically to develop deodorant concepts which respect the differences between different population groups.