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Friday, February 1, 2013

We don’t all need deodorant

Among our many genes is one called ABCC11 that serves a variety of purposes. For instance, it encodes a multi-drug resistance factor. Somewhat perversely, this gene is also responsible for the type and amount of earwax you will produce and whether or not your armpits will smell. This is because these two bodily functions are dependent on glandular secretions that are modified by ABCC11 alleles.

All this is by way of saying that some people don’t produce body odor in any appreciable amount. If at least one of your two ABCC11 genes is of the ‘G’ variety, you will produce body odor. If on the other hand, you got the ‘A’ allele from each parent, you won’t. Researchers, led by Santiago Rodriguez of the University of Bristol, wondered whether such people regularly use deodorant anyway. 

Take a look at the following graphs. On the top, you can see the amount of smelly steroid produced by people with different ABCC11 genotypes. On the bottom is the propensity of those people to skip the deodorant.

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Figure 1:
(a)   Concentration of the odoriferous steroid observed for each ABCC11 genotype.
(b)  Ratio of never use over daily use of deodorant.

The scientists found that five times more people with the non-smelly AA version of the gene never use deodorant compared to people with one or more smell-producing G alleles. By the way, the G allele is more prevalent in European or African populations than it is in East Asian populations. 

Interestingly, over three quarters of the study participants who have the AA genotype, and consequently don’t really need deodorant, use it anyway. The authors suggest that this gene would make an excellent target for personal genomics. We could all have our ABCC11 genes typed to find out if we should be saving money at the drug store. This might also encourage the 5% of people who don’t regularly use deodorant despite having the smelly alleles to get on the ball. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Rodriguez, S., Steer, C., Farrow, A., Golding, J., & Day, I. (2013). Dependence of Deodorant Usage on ABCC11 Genotype: Scope for Personalized Genetics in Personal Hygiene Journal of Investigative Dermatology DOI: 10.1038/jid.2012.480.