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The Nose Knows

Two studies in Current Biology look at the genetic influence on odor perception. A New Zealand-based group performed a genome-wide association study looking for genes related to sensitivity to 10 food-related odors. For four of those odors — linked to the smells of apple, blue cheese, malt, and violets, the New Scientist notes — the researchers found associations to loci in or near known clusters of olfactory receptor genes. They note that, looking across human populations, variation in these sensitivity genotypes is common.

"If this extends to other odors, we might expect everyone to have their own unique set of smells they are sensitive to," first author Jeremy McRae tells the New Scientist. "When people sit down to eat a meal, they each might experience it in their own personalized way."

And in the other study, the New Zealand group homes in on a Mendelian gene affecting β-ionone sensitivity. That gene appears to govern sensitivity to smelling the chemical as fragrant or floral. They further note that people with such sensitivity tend to avoid products with added β-ionone.

"Newcomb says he and his colleagues are also talking to the food and drink industry about how they might use the findings to develop products that target the whole range of human variation," the New Scientist adds.