There's a Rare Gene Mutation That Makes You Immune to This Awful Odor

Scientists have found the latest in a series of fascinating genetic mutations, and this is one we want.

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Since it was determined to be one of the common symptoms of COVID-19, you've probably only considered the loss of your sense of smell as something negative. And while for the most part that would be true, a new scientific study has found one specific case where not being able to smell might actually be a positive thing. According to a study out of Iceland published on Oct. 8, in the journal Current Biology, a small section of people were found to have a genetic mutation that made them immune to the widely considered unpleasant odor of raw or rotting fish.

For the study, 11,326 Icelandic participants were asked to smell six "Sniffin' Sticks"—unmarked pen-like devices that released a synthetic odor when uncapped—each with a specific scent: cinnamon, peppermint, banana, licorice, lemon, and fish. The participants were then asked to identify the smell and rate its intensity and pleasantness. Unsurprisingly, the fish scent was both the most universally recognized and the most poorly rated in terms of its pleasantness.

The most interesting finding of the study, however, was that a small portion respondents were found to not only repeatedly tolerate the foul aroma, but in some instances even enjoy the smell. The reason, the scientists who conducted the study determined, is a genetic mutation that rendered the gene TAAR5 ineffective. And it is this gene, which the vast majority of people have in tact, that helps make a protein responsible for recognizing a chemical called trimethylamine, or TMA, found in rotten and fermented fish and human bodily fluids like sweat and urine.

After learning of this fascinating, and arguably positive, mutation, we got to wondering if there are others of its kind. Read on to discover more genetic mutations that may provide you with an ability that others humans don't have. And for a scientific development that is more alarming than alluring, check out Dr. Fauci Says This Is Why the Latest COVID Mutation Worries Him.

1
Enhanced sense of taste

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According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 25 percent of Americans are considered to be "supertasters"—meaning they have the ability to taste food in a way that is far more intense than the rest of us. The ability, scientists believe, is due to a specific variation of TAS2R38, known as the bitter-taste receptor gene. And for more on your five senses, check out COVID Can Kill Another One of Your Senses Besides Taste and Smell.

2
Super speed or athletic ability

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All humans have a gene called ACTN3, which normally produces a protein that regulates the function of fast-twitch muscles that are associated with speed and strength. However, several studies have found that a variant of this gene disrupts the development of the regulating protein. Without that protein, scientists found, your fast-twitch muscle function goes unregulated, resulting in enhanced ability for endurance, speed, and strength.

3
Abnormally strong bones

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Typically, mutations in the gene for low-density lipoprotein receptor–related protein 5, or LRP5, result in the debilitating condition osteoporosis. However, a 2002 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found a specific mutation led to enhanced bone density and strength. And one doctor who studied patients with the condition told Big Think, "None of those people, ranging in age from 3 to 93, had ever had a broken bone." And for more helpful information delivered to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

4
Protection against diabetes

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For a 2014 study published in the journal Nature Genetics, researchers from the Broad Institute in Boston, set out to determine why a group of elderly, overweight individuals who, based on their preexisting health conditions, should have type 2 diabetes, but mysteriously did not. What they found was that people with a mutation to a gene that has subtle effects on insulin called SLC30A8—short for Solute carrier family 30, member 8—are 65 percent less likely to get diabetes, even when they have risk factors like obesity. And for more fascinating science facts, check out This Is What It Means When a Fly Lands on You.

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