Sep
16
2007

Vanilla and urine? Well, I’m not sure that I’d mix them up, but…

It's like a big angel food cake, running right at you: If you've got the right combination of genes.  (photo by castle79 on flickr.com)
It's like a big angel food cake, running right at you: If you've got the right combination of genes. (photo by castle79 on flickr.com)
Picture a big mug of some hot, vanilla flavored beverage. Think about how it smells…
Now do the same for a big, hot mug of urine. Now hold that thought.

Androstenone is a testosterone derivative produced in our bodies, and found in our urine and sweat. It is partially responsible for the less than charming smell of these fluids, as it smells like, well, urine and b.o. But it only smells like urine and b.o. to some people – to others it smells a lot like vanilla, and to others still, it smells like nothing at all.

Recently, scientists think they have isolated the gene that determines how people perceive the odor of androstenone. A group of four hundred people were presented with 66 different odors at two concentrations, and asked to evaluate the pleasantness and intensity of each odor. Blood samples were then taken from each participant for genetic testing. The study found that whether a person found androstenone foul or pleasant depended on the combination of “two point mutations called single nucleotide polymorphisms” along a particular odorant receptor gene. Isn’t that something? So, whether a junior high locker room smells like a bakery or an adolescent nightmare all depends the luck of the genetic draw (although I’m not sure that either option is all that great).

Some mammals use androstenone to pass on social and sexual messages. It’s possible that it played some similar role in humans, although, if this is the case, scientists can’t explain why so many people simply lack the ability to smell androstenone at all.

A fun fact: males produce much more androstenone than females. Sorry ladies, but there are some things that we men just do better than you, like producing really stinky chemicals.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JARVIS's picture
JARVIS says:

I think this idea at least is plausible. It is like saying that gatorade has sweat in it.

posted on Wed, 05/21/2008 - 11:44am

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