How does odour perception vary between individuals?

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Ann asked the Naked Scientists:


I was wondering if you or another individual could answer a question I had, regarding smell and pheromones.

I've noticed that some individuals have a very strong odour to them; to me, it smells like rancid salami. Other people do not seem to be able to pick up on this scent.

My fiance has a very faint salami-like smell to him. One of my co-workers makes me nauseated when she walks into a room: the smell is so strong I want to gag.

Can someone explain to me what this salami smell is? Or perhaps what it means? I've searched high and low on the internet and journal articles, but nothing comes up.


What do you think?
« Last Edit: 31/01/2009 12:02:54 by chris »


Offline RD

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Re: How does odour perception vary between individuals?
« Reply #1 on: 13/09/2008 20:00:31 »
Sounds like your co-worker has "B.O."...

Body odor (spelled body odour outside the United States), often abbreviated as B.O., or bromhidrosis (also called bromidrosis, osmidrosis and ozochrotia) is the smell of bacteria growing on the body.
These bacteria multiply rapidly in the presence of sweat, but sweat itself is almost completely odorless.

I think the variations in odour you have noticed are more likely to be due to variations in the personal hygiene of those around you.
« Last Edit: 14/09/2008 00:17:47 by RD »


Offline Bored chemist

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Re: How does odour perception vary between individuals?
« Reply #2 on: 14/09/2008 14:17:15 »
There are a couple of things to note here. People's ability to smell things is variable. I can't smell acetonitrile- my coleagues can and they wish I was more careful with the stuff. On the other hand I'm usually the first one to notice the smell of smoke (something of a survival trait if you work in a lab).
There are also variations on how  peoplesmell.
There's some evidence that body odour is connected with the major histocompatibility complex.

Of course, how often people was themselves and their clothes make a big difference too.
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