Researchers have been able to identify a unique group of enzymes within certain bacteria that are capable of breaking down sweat molecules into compounds that cause body odor.

According to the Society for General Microbiology, the researchers analyzed the ability of more than 150 isolated bacteria obtained from skin in the underarm to produce the malodorants. The research team then determined the genes that were encoding the proteins that led to the production of thioalcohol compounds, which are the ones that cause body odor.

The genes were discovered in the Staphylococcus hominis and in two other Staphylococcus species.

As confirmation that the identified genes were significant in the production of body odor, the research team transferred the genes to Escherichia coli bacteria. The researchers found that they produced the same odor when the bacteria with the identified genes were grown around molecules of human sweat.

"This work has significantly advanced our understanding of the specific biochemical processes involved in body [odor] production," said University of York's Dan Bawdon, who was the research lead.

Bawdon added that it was surprising to see that the formation of body odor is caused by such a small number among the species of bacteria that can be found living in the human underarm.

According to Bawdon, the team's research has opened up the possibility of preventing the production of body odor by the creation of compounds that will specifically destroy the proteins that control the formation of malodorants.

It has long been known that thioalcohols play a part in the formation of body odor, but research that looks into how the compounds produce body odor has been scarce. With the findings of the new research, deodorant developments could look to target the production of thioalcohols without causing any harm to any other bacteria in the underarm.

Professor Gavin Thomas from the University of York's Department of Biology said that the project received funding from the BBSRC iCASE PhD scheme with Unilever microbiologist Gordon James, and that the data of the study has already made a significant impact on Unilever's research for its deodorant products.

Thomas added that the highly detailed understanding of the molecular process occurring daily in the human armpit, along with the discovery of the specific bacteria that causes body odor, is "really exciting."

Thomas, along with Bawdon, will present the research to Unilever Discover, which is the research and development arm of the company. Unilever owns several personal hygiene brands, such as Dove, Axe, Pond's and Vaseline.

Photo: Kullez | Flickr

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