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Sense of Smell Linked to Genes, Study Says

Posted: August 5, 2013

A new study has found that a person's sense of smell is linked to the genetic variant rs6591536.

According to a study, "A Mendelian Trait for Olfactory Sensitivity Affects Odor Experience and Food Selection," which was published online in the journal Cell Biology, β-ionone is a key aroma in foods and beverages and is added to products in order to give a pleasant floral note. Genome-wide and in vitro assays demonstrate rs6591536 as the causal variant for β-ionone odor sensitivity.

Specifically, rs6591536 encodes a N183D substitution in the second extracellular loop of OR5A1 and explains >96% of the observed phenotypic variation, resembling a monogenic Mendelian trait. Individuals carrying genotypes for β-ionone sensitivity can more easily differentiate between food and beverage stimuli with and without added β-ionone. Sensitive individuals typically describe β-ionone in foods and beverages as “fragrant” and “floral,” whereas less-sensitive individuals describe these stimuli differently.

The study also reveals that the rs6591536 genotype also influences emotional associations and explains differences in food and product choices. These studies demonstrate that an OR variant that influences olfactory sensitivity can affect how people experience and respond to foods, beverages, and other products.