New discovery could put an end to underarm odours

British researchers identify protein that helps make sweat smelly

Photograph: Thinkstocks

Photograph: Thinkstocks


Modern deodorants may be struggling to keep armpits odour-free in the current heatwave, but new research claims to have the key to making them more effective.

British researchers involved in a new study have discovered that not all bacteria living in our armpit skin are responsible for causing pungent smells. And they have found a key protein involved in the release of those unwanted odours.

Dr Gavin Thomas, the study co-author at the University of York, said modern deodorants work by inhibiting or killing many of the bacteria present in our underarms in order to prevent body odour.

“This study, [...]could result in the development of more targeted products that aim to [...]block the production of body odour,” he said.

The study showed only a small population of bacteria of the Staphylococcus family take part in transforming odourless molecules we secrete through our skin glands into smelly components.

“The skin of our underarms provides a unique niche for bacteria. Through the secretions of various glands that open onto the skin or into hair follicles, this environment is nutrient-rich and hosts its own microbial community,” Dr Thomas explained.

The research team was able to identify an important bacterial protein involved in the process. It was found to enable bacteria to ‘eat up’ sweat compounds, therefore being the first step in producing unpleasant scents. Researchers have been able to accurately describe its atomic structure using x-ray technology.

According to research co-author Simon Newstead, this discovery can also be relevant for medical science. He said understanding the protein not only was important because it is found among many bacteria, but also it resembles a human protein involved in drug absorption in our small intestines.

The findings were published in the open access journal eLife on Tuesday.