Smelly Situation

Exercise gives us that healthy glow…but uh-oh, B.O.!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Sweat is our body’s cooling-down mechanism. But does it have to be so smelly? Armpits, I’m looking at you! Our sweat is odorless, so what’s all the stink about?

Gurdeep Minhas and colleagues at Oxford decided to investigate. They knew the smell came from a protein, a tiny molecular machine, in armpit bacteria. But which one?

The team investigated one protein at a time until they SNIFFED OUT the culprit.

It’s a transport protein, which ferries nutrients to the bacteria. Specifically, it delivers packages full of odorless chemicals from our sweat. Upon receiving its package, the bacteria turns it into another chemical containing sulfur.

Chemicals that contain sulfur are usually smelly — like rotten eggs. So THIS is the source of our stinky sweat!

Modern deodorants work by killing our armpit bacteria or hampering their functions. But not ALL bacteria are to blame!. By targeting the specific bacterial protein Minhas found, chemists could develop more effective deodorants.

And THAT smells like progress!