There is nothing on this planet that doesn’t have its own unique odor. Some are enticing, seductive, even wondrous. Others are revolting, stomach-turning or repulsive.
Around the world, scientists are studying odor trying to determine a variety of possible applications.
For example, does each human have an odor print as uniquely distinctive as a fingerprint? Can it be quantified and catalogued so it can be used by law enforcement or as evidence in court? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is putting out bids for a study to determine if human odor signatures can serve as an indicator of deception.
In the clinical arena, does body odor reflect the health of a person?
This is going to get a bit gross, but there are some medical researchers who insist they can identify certain disease patterns by differences in the smell of stool, vomit and bodily gases.
Scientists already have identified odors in human breath and skin associated with diabetes, cancer, and other diseases, reports Ivan Amato, a senior correspondent for the American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering magazine.
Researchers at several medical centers are pursuing the link between a person’s body odor and anxiety. This is not as far-fetched as you might believe. Remember, there are specially trained service dogs that can alert their owner to an approaching seizure.
In the current issue of the magazine Amato writes that each of the 6. 7 billion people on this globe of ours has a signature body odor – a fingerprint, if you will – and scientists are tracking down those odiferous arches, loops, and whorls in the “human odorprint.”
Not all of the scent research is new.
Amato writes about an exhibit at the Stasi Museum, in Berlin. It chronicles the practice of the former East German secret police organization of surreptitiously collecting odor samples—from specially designed seat cushions, for example—with the notion of using these stored odors to identify and track suspect citizens by way of sniffer dogs.
Kenneth Furton, a scientist from Florida International University is searching for machine-detectable patterns in the volatile chemicals emitted by people. Amato writes about a study funded by the Netherlands’ National Police Agency, where Furton swabbed the hands of 60 individuals with specially cleaned pads and placed these inside glass vials.
Then, using cutting edge sampling techniques that can measure the vapors in the vials, the samples were run through a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, which identified 63 compounds. By applying a pattern-recognition technique, the researchers reported that they could distinguish the individual from whom the swabs were taken.
Significant advances are in the pipeline, researchers say.