What’s That Smell? The Answer May Be in Your Genes

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-08_9b286f6c62.jpgComstock/Thinkstock(AUCKLAND, New Zealand) -- If that rose doesn’t smell as sweet to you as it does to the next person, it may be your genes. Scientists from New Zealand have isolated a gene that is involved in perceptions of smell. At the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research, scientists looked at B-Ionone, a key aroma in foods and beverages generally thought to give off a floral scent.

But as it turns out, people in the general population actually have a wide variety of responses to this scent: some perceive it as fragrant or floral, while for others it comes off as sour or sharp.

The researchers looked at the genes of 163 people, and what they found was that one gene in particular seemed to determine which of these two camps people fell into. So it turns out that many smells may, indeed, be in the nose of the beholder.

"We were surprised how many odors had genes associated with them," study author Dr. Jeremy McRae said of the study. "If this extends to other odors, then we might expect everyone to have their own unique set of smells that they are sensitive to."

McRae added that these smells are found in food and beverages that people are exposed to everyday, such as tomatoes or apples.

"This might mean that when people sit down to eat a meal, they each experience it in their own personalized way," he said.

Interestingly, the study authors, whose work is published in Current Biology, said they observed that women were better at detecting odor compounds than their male counterparts. They also found that our sense of smell deteriorates as we get older.

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