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A new discovery could make next-gen deodorants way more effective

We’re all for amazing smartphones, cutting-edge robots, and flying cars. But when we’re stuck on a subway or bus next to a particularly pungent passenger on the commute to work, the one technology we’re hoping for more than anything is a next-generation deodorant, capable of wiping out body odor wherever it rears its malodorous head. Fortunately, such a thing may soon be a reality thanks to researchers from the United Kingdom.

Scientists at the U.K.’s University of York and University of Oxford have taken the first, important step to eradicating body odor for good by isolating the species of Staphylococcus bacteria which causes the most foul-smelling compounds in sweat. Their work concludes that, just like a few bad apples spoils the bunch, a fairly small number of bacteria species are responsible for the majority of a person’s bad odor.

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That may sound relatively dry (well, as dry as research into sweat ever gets), but understanding the structure of body odor’s transport protein opens up the possibility of developing new, supercharged deodorants. Rather than indiscriminately targeting all bacteria, these next-gen antiperspirants — whether spray on or roll-on deodorants — could be created especially to target these specific bacteria, while leaving the rest alone to continue with their inoffensive existence. Instead of simply masking the scent, the idea is that these futuristic foul smell battling deodorants could block the pungent enzymes and disable the transport proteins which otherwise result in a person giving off an unpleasant whiff as they walk by.

At present, the research is still at an early stage, but having a more comprehensive understanding of the biochemical, enzymatic and genetic background of body odor causation can only be a good thing. If you’re one of the unlucky folks who is affected by body odor, regardless of whether or not you wash, this could turn out to be a game-changer.

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, in addition to an industry grant from Unilever, the consumer goods company which produces a number of deodorants and other hygiene products.

A paper describing the work, titled “Structural basis of malodor precursor transport in the human axilla,” was recently published in the journal eLife.

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