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Different wine whiffs are down to our genes

If you think you smell a wine differently to those around you, chances are you do. So you no longer have to be embarrassed if everyone else insists they can smell apricot while you are getting a whiff of peach because now there is new scientific evidence that proves people smell the world differently because of their genes.

The research by scientists from Rockefeller University in New York, which tested the sense of smell of several hundred volunteers, found that small changes in one gene can cause people to variously perceive a key ingredient of male body odour and urine as smelling sweaty, urinous, floral, sweet, odourless or even of vanilla!

Andreas Keller, the study’s lead author, explained to ThirtyFifty that, ‘Humans have hundreds of genes encoding a diverse array of odorant receptors that bind to numerous volatile odorous chemicals. In this paper, we describe polymorphisms in a single human odorant receptor, which is very selectively activated by two odorous steroids, androstenone and androstadienone. These two odours are breakdown products of testosterone and are secreted in male sweat and urine. In our study, we found different versions of this odorant receptor - some are functional and some are impaired. We then found that people who carry impaired versions of this odorant receptor perceive these sex steroid-derived odours as less intense and less unpleasant than humans with a fully functional receptor.

‘Therefore, the variation in how people smell these odours has a
strong genetic basis.’

Andreas added, ‘It is known that some people are blind to smells like vanilla and musk that can be part of the smell of wine. To them, wine will smell different. It is likely that at least some of these effects are caused - like the on people we studied - by variability in odorant receptors.’

The study was published in online journal Nature.