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Individual and gender fingerprints in human body odour

Dustin J. Penn1, Elisabeth Oberzaucher2, Karl Grammer2, Gottfried Fischer3, Helena A. Soini4, Donald Wiesler4, Milos V. Novotny4, Sarah J. Dixon5, Yun Xu5, Richard G. Brereton5

1 Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Savoyenstraße 1a, 1160 Vienna, Austria
2 Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology, Althanstrasse 14, 1090 Vienna, Austria
3 Clinical Department for Blood Group Serology, Medical University of Vienna, Währinger Gürtel 18-20, 1090 Vienna, Austria
4 Institute for Pheromone Research and Department of Chemistry, Indiana University, 800 E Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA
5 Centre for Chemometrics, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Cantocks Close, Bristol BS8 1TS, UK

Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 4(13): 331-340.



Individuals are thought to have their own distinctive scent, analogous to a signature or fingerprint. To test this idea, we collected axillary sweat, urine and saliva from 197 adults from a village in the Austrian Alps, taking five sweat samples per subject over 10 weeks using a novel skin sampling device. We analysed samples using stir bar sorptive extraction in connection with thermal desorption gas chromatograph–mass spectrometry (GC–MS), and then we statistically analysed the chromatographic profiles using pattern recognition techniques. We found more volatile compounds in axillary sweat than in urine or saliva, and among these we found 373 peaks that were consistent over time (detected in four out of five samples per individual). Among these candidate compounds, we found individually distinct and reproducible GC–MS fingerprints, a reproducible difference between the sexes, and we identified the chemical structures of 44 individual and 12 gender-specific volatile compounds. These individual compounds provide candidates for major histocompatibility complex and other genetically determined odours. This is the first study on human axillary odour to sample a large number of subjects, and our findings are relevant to understanding the chemical nature of human odour, and efforts to design electronic sensors (e-nose) for biometric fingerprinting and disease diagnoses.

Research site in the Austrian alps.


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