Identification of regions associated with variation in sensitivity to food-related odors in the human genome

Curr Biol. 2013 Aug 19;23(16):1596-600. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.07.031. Epub 2013 Aug 1.


Humans vary in their ability to smell numerous odors [1-3], including those associated with food [4-6]. Odor sensitivity is heritable [7-11], with examples linking genetic variation for sensitivity to specific odors typically located near olfactory receptor (OR) genes [12-16]. However, with thousands of aromas and few deorphaned ORs [17, 18], there has been little progress toward linking variation at OR loci to odor sensitivity [19, 20]. We hypothesized that OR genes contain the variation that explains much of the differences in sensitivity for odors, paralleling the genetics of taste [21, 22], which affect the flavor experience of foods [23-25]. We employed a genome-wide association approach for ten food-related odors and identified genetic associations to sensitivity for 2-heptanone (p = 5.1 × 10(-8)), isobutyraldehyde (p = 6.4 × 10(-10)), β-damascenone (p = 1.6 × 10(-7)), and β-ionone (p = 1.4 × 10(-31)). Each locus is located in/near distinct clusters of OR genes. These findings increase the number of olfactory sensitivity loci to nine and demonstrate the importance of OR-associated variation in sensory acuity for food-related odors. Analysis of genotype frequencies across human populations implies that variation in sensitivity for these odors is widespread. Furthermore, each participant possessed one of many possible combinations of sensitivities for these odors, supporting the notion that everyone experiences their own unique "flavor world."

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Food
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Receptors, Odorant / genetics*
  • Receptors, Odorant / metabolism
  • Smell*
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Odorant