We all encounter odors every day; they are ubiquitous and integral – from the smell of morning coffee to the scent of rain. But we also emit our own scent, unique to each person. That’s right: our bodies produce an odor that is influenced by our genes, the food we eat, and even our health. This interesting topic has attracted the attention of science, and its work in this area affects a wide range of fields – from forensic medicine to public health.
The smell you emit is comparable to your own biological signature, writes ScienceAlert. It is caused by a combination of a number of factors, including genetics, which play a large role. Certain genes in your body help make the proteins and chemicals that make up that unique scent.
However, smell is not something uniform and unchanging. Once the body has developed a smell, it still undergoes many changes. Sweat, oils and other substances released by the body interact with bacteria on the skin. As a result of the activity of bacteria, the initial smell changes, forming a more complex aroma that is unique to you. By this changed smell, you can identify a person and even determine whether he is healthy or not.
Researchers seek to understand human smell by studying certain gaseous chemicals released by the skin. These are called volatile organic compounds and they make up the scent you give off. Your body heat helps these compounds evaporate and spread into the air around you. This means anyone close enough can sniff you out.
One of the most intriguing things about fragrance is its ability to serve as a marker of your personality. It’s so clear that specially trained dogs can follow the tracks you leave. Experiments have shown that dogs can distinguish identical twins by smell alone – even a DNA test cannot cope with this task.
Subsequent studies went further and showed that race, ethnicity and even gender could be determined by smell. A 2017 study found that a specific set of 15 volatile organic compounds can determine a person’s race and ethnicity with surprising accuracy. He also showed that smell can determine a person’s gender with about 80% accuracy.
But even this is not all, because the smell can determine not only the person’s personality. There are specially trained medical dogs that can detect by smell if a person has diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Research shows that dogs can even detect COVID-19 with 90% accuracy. Similarly, laboratory tests of human smell have been shown to be able to identify people positive for COVID-19 with 75% accuracy.
The unique smell you emit also has practical uses. In forensics, odor samples can be collected at a crime scene, providing another layer of evidence. In healthcare, understanding a person’s sense of smell can provide a non-invasive way to monitor or diagnose health conditions.
The study of human smell is a field that continues to evolve. Researchers are working to improve our understanding of what makes each person’s scent unique and how this information can be used in practical applications such as health care and criminal investigations.
So the next time you smell someone, remember that your nose is entering a complex and incredibly diverse world that scientists are just beginning to understand. Perhaps in the future, the scent you leave behind will say more about you than any ID card. We can only hope that this information will be used in the future for humane purposes, far from the George Orwellian dystopia known to many.
Illustrative Photo by Tetyana Kovyrina: https://www.pexels.com/photo/girl-sitting-on-grass-smelling-white-petaled-flower-1879288/