Ever been at the office and suddenly had a horrible funk cross your nostrils, causing you to wince? Maybe you looked across the office floor and identified a few possible culprits or, even worse, you suddenly became paranoid that the awful stench was coming from you?
Either way, body odor has been responsible for many embarrassing social situations — and possibly social exiles — since the dawn of humanity.
Now, in a new study that could allow for the development of new methods for combatting BO, we have finally identified the enzyme that is responsible for this unsavory body stench.
Homo sapiens' smelly history
The University of York researchers behind the study had previously shown that out of the plethora of bacteria found in our armpits, only a select few are the actual culprits behind BO. For the new study, the same researchers collaborated with Unilever scientists and went one step further: they discovered a unique 'BO enzyme' found only within these bacteria, which is responsible for the characteristic pungent armpit odor.
The new research highlights how specific bacteria have evolved a specialized enzyme to produce some of the key molecules we recognize today as BO, or body odor.
"Solving the structure of this "BO enzyme' has allowed us to pinpoint the molecular step inside certain bacteria that makes the odor molecules," Co-first author Dr. Michelle Rudden from the group of Prof. Gavin Thomas in the University of York's Department of Biology, explained in a press release.
Stopping BO at the source
"This is a key advancement in understanding how body odor works, and will enable the development of targeted inhibitors that stop BO production at the source without disrupting the armpit microbiome," Prof. Gavin Thomas continued.
The research specifically highlighted Staphylococcus hominis as one of the main microbes behind body odor. What's more, the researchers say that this 'BO enzyme' was present in S. hominis long before the emergence of Homo sapiens as a species. This suggests that body odor existed prior to the evolution of modern humans, and may have played a role in societal hierarchy and communication amongst ancestral primates.
So next time you look over at that smelly work colleague, or fear that you yourself might be the real culprit, just remember that you're taking part in a dance that has evolved over tens of millions of years, and is older than humanity itself.