How We Perceive Certain Smells Could Be Tied to Genetics, Says New Study
Researchers have discovered a single genetic mutation that can affect how you perceive various aromas.
Do you smell that? According to new research, your answer could be tied to your DNA. In fact, a recently published study discovered that a single genetic mutation was to blame for why certain people found some smells-specifically beets, whiskey, and lily of the valley perfume-to be overwhelmingly strong while others did not.
The study, published inProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, involved 300 participants and 150 jars of varying scents. Individuals were asked take a whiff of various jars and rate each smell on an intensity scale and a pleasantness scale. At the end of the study, participants were also required to provide a blood sample. Researchers then looked for patterns in the participants' genetic codes and how these might affect their olfactory perceptions.
Inside your nasal cavity, there are nearly 400 receptors that help you detect and process a single scent. "Odors bind and turn on specific detectors, and this pattern of activation tells us if we're smelling a flower, how strong we find it, whether we like it," Casey Trimmer, a geneticist and the lead author of the study told the New York Times. "Small changes in the gene for the receptor can change its shape and how well the odor fits, thereby altering perception of the odor.
While the idea that everyone smells things a little differently is not new, this study is particularly significant because it examined how genetics affect our scent-detection skills on a larger scale. Researchers also acknowledged that other factors can affect how we perceive various smells, such as previous associations we may have attached to a specific scent. Though our sense of smell, or lack thereof, of certain aromas may not seem as significant as our ability to see or touch them, previous studies have found that a reduced sense of smell can be linked to certain psychological consequences, like the onset of Alzheimer's disease.