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Chemical Reaction: Nose News

By: Steve Herman
Posted: January 8, 2007, from the January 2007 issue of GCI Magazine.

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This is an aspect of psychogenetics, relating behavior and preferences to human genes. The presence of the PTC receptor increases the preference for glucose, apparently since the heightened awareness of bitterness requires more sweetness to overcome. The same genetic difference influences the response to sulfur-containing raw vegetables. Individual genes also can promote obesity by removing the ability to feel full after eating.

The application of psychogenetics to taste obviously will transfer into individual fragrance use, since the taste and olfactory systems are so closely related. In the realm of perfume preference, the possibility that genetics will provide a tool for correlating likes and dislikes with genes is a marketing tool potentially as important as the application of fMRI to brand recognition in neuromarketing.5

The regulatory environment is getting harder on fragrance, particularly in Europe. Having just adjusted to the EU allergen regulations, REACH now is bearing down. With so many challenges to the existing fragrance palette, it is fortunate that discoveries involving genetics, the receptor families and brain function may open new worlds of fragrance applications. It is the old adage at work: Every time a door closes, another one opens.

On a final note, Luca Turin recently has written a wonderful little book6 on smell to serve as a pendant to Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent.7 It should be an excellent addition to the bookshelf of the general reader and fragrance professional both. For those who wish a quick overview of all the senses, a recent special edition of Scientific American is highly recommended.8


  1. S Herman, Good Vibrations, GCI (Jun 2003)
  2. MK McClintock, Menstrual Synchrony and Suppression, Nature 29(22) 244–245 (1971)
  3. SD Liberles and LB Buck, A second class of chemosensory receptors in the olfactory epithelium, Nature, 442 10 (Aug 2006)
  4. B Bufe et al, The Molecular Basis of Individual Differences in Phenylthiocarbamide and Propylthiouracil Bitterness Perception,, 15 322–327 (Feb 22, 2005)
  5. S Herman, Selling to the Brain, GCI (May 2005)
  6. L Turin, The Secret of Smell, Ecco (2006)
  7. C Burr, The Emperor of Scent, Diane Pub Co: Darby, PA (2004)
  8. Scientific American Special Edition, Secrets of the Senses, 16(3) (2006)