Informative Body Odor

Humans can tell the difference between the body smells of the young and the old, and find that youth is smellier.

By | May 31, 2012


Humans, like other animals, are able to discern the young from the old by smell alone, according to a study published yesterday (May 30) in PLoS ONE.

Body odor is thought to convey a number of social cues due to its complexity, including information that aids in selecting a suitable mate and recognizing kin. There is evidence that animals can differentiate age groups based on smell, and researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia wanted to test if the same were true in humans.

The researchers used pads sewn into the underarm area of T-shirts to collect body odor from male and female donors who wore them to sleep for 5 consecutive nights.  After the donors, who constituted three age groups—young (20–30 years old), middle-aged (45–55 years olds), and elderly (75–95 years old)—handed in their T-shirts, young participants were asked to smell the shirts and assess the age of the wearer, and judge its level of unpleasant odor.

Participants, who were both male and female, were able to discriminate between the three donor categories, and contrary to the anecdotal perception of the “old-person” smell being highly unpleasant, found the smells from the old-age group to be less offensive than the other two.

“Being the very first study to assess the ability of human participants to determine age from body odors, we focused on a very narrow research question and much remains to be explored,” the authors wrote, such as the biological mechanisms that produce the different scents.

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Avatar of: James Kohl

James Kohl

Posts: 53

June 1, 2012

Nutrient chemicals in the ecological niche calibrate individual survival, and the nutrient chemicals metabolize to pheromones in the social niche, which standardize and control reproduction in all species. Ecological and social niche construction also are required for adaptive evolution. For example, the construction of ecological and social niches results in epigenetic effects of food odors and pheromones on the hypothalamic neurogenic niche responsible for mammalian brain development and behavior. This exemplifies the design that is apparent in biology. That is, the transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of the molecular mechanisms for food preferences and social/kin preferences are manifestations of the common molecular biology of organisms from microbes to man.

Given the fact that body odors (social odors called pheromones) convey social cues that are as important as food odors to species survival in all species, it should surprise no one that we can detect differences in age via these olfactory/pheromonal cues. How could this not be the same in humans as in every other species that can detect the differences in aged foods and aged conspecifics. Food odors and pheromones classically condition our response to the visual appeal of food and conspecifics as occurs in all other animals. It's nice to see the data that prove another aspect of this model for species survival, but to many people it's common sense. Isn't it? You're not likely to eat something that doesn't smell right, or mate with anyone who doesn't smell right. The common sense that ensures that is olfaction.



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