Sense of smell is strictly personal, study suggests | Science News

Real Science. Real News.

Science News is a nonprofit.

Support us by subscribing now.


Sense of smell is strictly personal, study suggests

‘Olfactory fingerprint’ could be tough target for identity theft

3:00pm, June 22, 2015
olfactory fingerprints

SOLE SCENTS   “Olfactory fingerprints,” such as the two represented graphically above for two different people, represent a person’s individual sense of smell. Warmer colors represent greater perceived similarity between two odors. 

A person’s sense of smell may reveal a lot about his or her identity.

A new test can distinguish individuals based upon their perception of odors, possibly reflecting a person’s genetic makeup, scientists report online June 22 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Most humans perceive a given odor similarly. But the genes for the molecular machinery that humans use to detect scents are about 30 percent different in any two people, says neuroscientist Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. This variation means that nearly every person’s sense of smell is subtly different. Nobody had ever developed a way to test this sensory uniqueness, Sobel says.

Sobel and his colleagues designed a sensitive scent test they call the “olfactory fingerprint.” In an experiment, test subjects rated how strongly 28 odors such as clove or

This article is only available to Science News subscribers. Already a subscriber? Log in now.
Or subscribe today for full access.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content