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Scientists figure out why your body odor smells so strong

We've known certain bacteria cause BO, but now scientists have found the specific enzyme within the germs that makes us so aromatic.

- 01:22

BO can be traced to a specific enzyme.

University of York/Unilever

Researchers have zeroed in on the source of our stink. 

The same team that identified the handful of bacteria responsible for human body odor has now gone a step further and pinpointed the enzyme operating within those organisms. It's a cysteine-thiol lyase (C-T lyase) enzyme within bacteria like Staphylococcus hominis that makes the actual smelly molecules, which have inspired an entire industry of deodorants to contain them.

"This is a key advancement in understanding how body odor works, and will enable the development of targeted inhibitors that stop BO production at source without disrupting the armpit microbiome," said University of York researcher Michelle Rudden, in a release.

Rudden is co-author of a paper on the enzyme published Monday in Scientific Reports. The researchers worked in collaboration with scientists from personal care products giant Unilever, who may use the new insight in development of new deodorant products. 

Perhaps the most interesting finding of the research is that these stink-making enzymes have been with humans since, well ... since before we were humans. The researchers say it was along for the ride in our primate ancestors prior to the evolution of modern humans and may have played a key role in societal communication; primates are known to use odors to send a message, such as "back off."

"This research was a real eye-opener," said Unilever co-author Gordon James. "It was fascinating to discover that a key odor-forming enzyme exists in only a select few armpit bacteria and evolved there tens of millions of years ago." 

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