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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 August, 2003, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Why we smell things differently
Our genes determine how we smell things
Scientists believe they may have found out why we all smell and taste things very differently.

Our ability to smell and taste is regulated by around 1,000 genes, over half of which are totally inactive.

However, a study by researchers in Israel has identified at least 50 of these genes, which are switched on in some people and not in others.

They believe this may explain why some of us adore some smells and tastes while others abhor them.

Researchers at the Weizmann Institute say their study shows that nearly every human being displays a different pattern of active and inactive odour-detecting receptors.

These receptors determine how our brain reads flavours in food as well as smells.

Fragrances are more about art than science at the moment
Dr Tony Curtis,
University of Plymouth
The huge variation occurs because different receptors are switched on in different people and also because their sensitivity also differs.

The researchers have also found evidence to suggest people from different ethnic groups perceive aromas and flavours differently.

Industry revolution

They suggested their findings could revolutionise the way food, drink and perfume manufactures work.

At the moment, many companies base a decision on whether or not to make particular products on the reaction of test panels, usually comprising just a few people.

The researchers suggest these companies might want to rethink this policy in light of their findings.

But they also believe that these companies could one day test the potential popularity of their products using a computer chip.

They suggest these chips could be designed so that they replicate the taste and smell preferences of target markets.

Companies that make foods, perfumes and similar products have already started to keep a close eye on research in this area.

"Fragrances are more about art than science at the moment," said Dr Tony Curtis, who teaches on the aroma and fragrances degree course at the University of Plymouth.

"Everybody is looking for a scientific platform on which they can create fragrances.

"They would like to shorten the development cycle of products and minimise the risk," he told BBC News Online.

"We know how we see and how we hear. People are struggling to understand how we smell.

"But certainly when we get there it will revolutionise how people construct fragrances and how we evaluate them."

The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics.

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