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Fragrance perception is unique to everyone, research finds

By Simon Pitman+

02-Jan-2014

New research carried out at Duke University suggests that everyone’s sense of smell is unique, which may throw new light on how to develop fragrance with the right balance of olfactory elements.

According to the research, which was headed up by associate professor Hiroaki Matsunami, a small difference at the tiniest level of DNA can determine whether an individual is either attracted or repulsed by a smell.

This is because a different amino acid on the same gene completely changes the perception of smell in individuals, the research team has deduced.

Combinations for olfactory perception are almost countless

The research worked around the principal that there are 400 genes coding for the receptors in the human nose, with more than 900,000 variations for these genes.

These receptors control the sensors that determine how we smell different types of odors, with individual odors triggering a suite of receptors that send a specific signal to the brain.

However, what Matsunami and his team have determined is that when comparing the receptors in any two people, they should be about 30% different, which means that olfactory perception is different for everyone.

Research could be just the tip of the iceberg

Indeed, Matsunami also underlines that the research did not take into account the promoter regions of the genes, which leads him to hypothesize that the estimate for variation is probably on the conservative side.

"There are many cases when you say you like the way something smells and other people don't. That's very common," Matsunami said.

"We found that individuals can be very different at the receptor levels, meaning that when we smell something, the receptors that are activated can be very different (from one person to the next) depending on your genome."

New methods for future fragrance development?

The research is expected to have a significant effect on fragrances of all kinds used in the cosmetics and personal care industry, as well as for the food industry, which is likely to lead to further research into this area in an attempt to find out what fragrances are the biggest winners.

"These manufacturers all want to know a rational way to produce new chemicals of interest, whether it's a new perfume or new-flavored ingredient, and right now there's no scientific basis for doing that," he said.

"To do that, we need to know which receptors are being activated by certain chemicals and the consequences of those activations in terms of how we feel and smell."

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