Potential Project Description for 2013-14


Title: Human Scent Project
Domain Expert: Doug Beussman (Chemistry)

Our lab is involved in studying human scent profiles, in support of canine tracking dogs. Trained dogs can follow the scent of a person over a mile or more, up to several days after the person has left the trail. The current hypothesis is that the dogs are smelling the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) given off by dead epithelial (skin) cells shed by the person as he/she walks. We are collecting epithelial cells from volunteers and determining in the lab what VOCs are given off by each person. There are several aims of this work. The first is to show that each person has a unique scent profile that the dog could use to distinguish one person’s trail from those of other people. We routinely detect 50 or more compounds emanating from human epithelial cells, in various quantities. The identities of many of these compounds are the same between people, but there are some differences observed as well. The amount of each compound can also vary between people. We will ultimately collect roughly 100 sample scent profiles, each with roughly 50 compounds, each of varying amounts. Aside from hopefully demonstrating that everyone has a unique scent profile, we also want to investigate if there are class characteristics in the profiles. Along with each sample, we are collecting gender, age, ethnicity, and vegetarian or not data. We are interested in applying statistics, likely principle component analysis, to determine for example whether scent profiles of a given age group can be classified together, or if gender determination can be made based on the scent profile. If class characteristics can be identified, we would then want to build decision trees that might allow the age, gender, ethnicity, etc. to be determined based on the VOC scent profile observed.