- Scientists have discovered the active molecular pathway for a particular form of body odor
- Body odor comes from bacteria that turn molecules in sweat into a stinky chemical
- Current deodorant and antiperspirant products only mask odor or stop perspiration for about 12-24 hours
(CNN)Sweaty people around the world may one day sing the praises of scientists at the University of York.
These researchers in England have made a groundbreaking genetic discovery about bacteria called Staphylococcus hominis.
Never heard of Staphylococcus hominis? They are closer to you right now than you might imagine.
They are some of the bacteria that live in your underarm microbiome. There are more of these tiny little guys living under your arm than there are humans living on this planet.
They make body odor smell less than pleasant by breaking down naturally secreted molecules that are in sweat. That's why scientists are chasing the holy grail of hygiene.
The scientists -- Daniel Bawdon and Gavin Thomas of York, along with Gordon James and Diana Cox of Unilever, which makes personal care products -- presented their research this week at the Society for General Microbiology's annual conference in Birmingham, England. What they found literally (but not figuratively) stinks.
"This is the first time the active molecular pathway for this particular form of body odor has been understood," Bawdon said. "We've never known any specific details about how they do this."
They've identified the genes encoding the proteins responsible for producing free thioalcohols, an important component of what makes people stinky when they sweat. It's part of the reason unwashed gym clothes smell worse on a second day. These bacteria have had a longer time to lunch on sweat and produce more thioalcohols.
One gene the researchers found was not just in Staphylococcus hominis, but also in two other Staphylococcus species that produce thioalcohols.
It turns out you only need a tiny number of these bacteria to create an "extremely smelly amount" of this odor, often described as having an oniony smell or the smell of rotten eggs, according to Bawdon.
"Most of the (bacteria) don't produce this and only a certain limited number of species seem to create this biochemical reaction," Bawdon explained. "We really don't fully understand why this happens."
But researchers may now know what path to travel to stop this chemical process from happening. You can bet that's why a food and personal care product company, Unilever, joined the British government to help fund the program.
Currently deodorants and antiperspirants can either stop you from sweating temporarily, mask the smell with other fragrances, or eliminate some of the odor by nonselectively killing your underarm friends. A product that could target thioalcohol production could be more effective.
Most products can only keep you smelling fresh for about 12 to 24 hours, according to George Preti, an organic chemist at the Monell Center who made national news in 1990 for discovering the chemical that produced the odor.
He said the research behind the new findings is really solid and does advance this sweaty science, but stopping body odor is still a long way away.
"Even if they could stop this process from happening, it would need to meet a rigorous standard for approval to be used on your skin," Preti said. He holds more than a dozen patents related to d