Scientists have identified a unique set of enzymes in a bacterium that is responsible for unpleasant body odour in humans.
Body odour is caused by bacteria on the skin breaking down naturally secreted molecules contained within sweat. Now, researchers from the University of York working with Unilever have studied the underarm microbiome and identified a unique set of enzymes in the bacterium Staphylococcus hominis that is effective at breaking down sweat molecules into compounds known as thioalcohols, an important component of the characteristic body odour smell.
The researchers assessed the ability of over 150 bacterial isolates from underarm skin samples to produce malodourants.
They then identified the genes encoding the proteins responsible for producing the thioalchohols, which are pungent in tiny amounts – as little as 1 part per trillion.
One particular gene found in S hominis was also found in two other species of Staphylococcus, which were also shown to be strong thioalcohol producers. To confirm that these genes were necessary and sufficient for malodour production, the team moved them into the lab bacterium Escherichia coli, which was then able to produce the body odour smell when grown in the presence of human sweat molecules.