HR Strange But True!
December 04, 2008

Here at HR Strange but True!, and at's HR Forum, we've seen more than a few conversations about employees with offensive body odor. Now we find out that bodily scents may have a practical application--“odorprints” may one day replace ID cards for building security.

In a press release, the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, a nonprofit dedicated to research on the senses of smell and taste, says that mammals are known to have unique genetically determined body odors, created in part by genes involved in the immune system called MHCs, which are transmitted through body fluids such as sweat and urine. The MHCs contain airborne chemical molecules, known as volatile organic compounds, which can be detected by another animal's nose--or by chemical instruments.

These biologically based odor “signatures,” like fingerprints, could be a reliable way to identify individuals. “This opens the possibility that devices can be developed to detect individual odorprints,” says Jae Kwak, Ph.D., Monell's lead chemist on the project.

Now, we're sure you just thought about how that employee, who always comes back from lunch happy but reeking of garlic and onions, will get into your building. The scientists at Monell thought of this, too. They wondered if consuming large amounts of food, say garlic or chili peppers, could obstruct the detection of odorprints. So they conducted a series of experiments with mice.

No problem! Other mice could pick out the garlicky mouse by its underlying odor signature; the food consumed hadn't disguised the mouse's genetically determined “aroma.” Therefore, chemical detection methods could be adjusted to do this as well.

So while you'd like to see some of your employees go on a diet for health reasons, they won't have to alter their food choices for security reasons if odorprints do replace ID cards.

Source: Monell Chemical Senses Center

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