Evidence of Genetic Basis to Sense of Smell

After testing some 200 volunteers in Auckland, Richard Newcomb of the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research (PFR) and his colleagues have found the most convincing evidence yet of a genetic basis to the differences in people’s odour perception.

The researchers tested the volunteers for their sensitivity to 10 chemicals commonly found in food. They then searched each person’s entire genome, and found an association between genetic make-up and sensitivity for four of the 10 compounds – those with the smells of malt, apple, blue cheese and violets.

“If this extends to other odours, we might expect everyone to have their own unique set of smells they are sensitive to,” says team member Jeremy McRae, also at the IPFR. “When people sit down to eat a meal, they each might experience it in their own personalised way.”

The IPFR is now genetically testing panellists involved in their research to develop new fruit and vegetable varieties, as it can be faster to test DNA than perform repeated smell tests. As well, Newcomb is now studying how people with different genetic sensitivities respond to varying levels of beta-ionone in pinot noir, which adds a key flavour component to this wine variety.


Tags: Auckland  New Scientist  New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research  Richard Newcomb  

  • Editor - 3:05 pm on August 26th, 2013
    Thank you for your comment - we have updated the abbreviation to PFR in this article. However, please note that the 'IPFR' abbreviation is used in the original article on New Scientist.
  • Kelly Atkinson - 8:38 pm on August 19th, 2013
    The NZ Institute for Plant and Food Research is also officially known as "Plant & Food Research" (note the ampersand) and goes by the abbreviation PFR. Could you please use this instead of the totally unique abbreviation IPFR you've coined in this article?
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