"BO enzyme" found in armpit bacteria could be new deodorant target
Body odor is an unpleasant fact of life that we’ve all experienced in some way. Bacteria in the armpit have long been known to be the stinky culprits, and now scientists have discovered a “BO enzyme” in these bugs that’s responsible for the worst of it. And strangely, it turns out BO is far older than humans are.
Sweat is just the beginning of BO. While the stuff itself doesn’t smell, bacteria that live on the skin in the armpit break down proteins in sweat, producing some pungent molecules in the process.
Recent research from the University of York found that only a few species of armpit-dwelling bacteria cause BO, most notably Staphylococcus hominis. And in the new study, the same team isolated the culprit even further, to one particular enzyme within these bacteria.
The team found that S. hominis uses the cysteine-thiol lyase (C-T lyase) enzyme to break down certain precursor molecules into thioalcohols – one of the smelliest components of body odor. When the team transferred the enzyme into other bacteria, which don’t normally produce an odor, these bugs also began to stink.
Interestingly, it seems that this enzyme has been around far longer than humans have. The team dated its appearance in S. hominis using biochemistry and structural biology, and found that it could be as old as 60 million years. That means that our primate ancestors had a similar funk to them, which could have played roles in social communication.
The team says that by identifying the enzyme responsible, future research could focus on developing deodorants that target it. And with Unilever scientists also contributing to the study, we’d expect that to be the goal.
“Solving the structure of this ‘BO enzyme’ has allowed us to pinpoint the molecular step inside certain bacteria that makes the odour molecules,” says Michelle Rudden, co-first author of the study. “This is a key advancement in understanding how body odor works, and will enable the development of targeted inhibitors that stop BO production at source without disrupting the armpit microbiome.”
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Source: University of York