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The disgusting (to some people) secrets of smelly (to most people) feet

The smelly feet / Limburger cheese / malaria mosquito research that earned an Ig Nobel Prize (in 2006) has provoked a deeper look at smelly foot smells. David Robson reports, for BBC Future:feet

The disgusting secrets of smelly feet

Renate Smallegange is something of a connoisseur of smelly feet – and she goes to surprising lengths to study their odours. Sometimes she’ll collect worn nylon socks that have become imbued with the fragrance. If that’s not good enough, she asks people to rub their feet on glass beads and wipe their sweaty skin on the surface. When she’s being really picky, she’ll trap the feet in a plastic bag, allowing her to draw up the aroma in gusts of air. Of all the jobs in the world, it’s certainly not the most pleasant, but Smallegange is mostly unperturbed by the occasional whiff of cheese. “It’s not a big deal,” she tells me. “Of course some people do smell nicer than others – from my personal point of view.” …

In some situations, foot odour is much more serious than slight embarrassment, however – it might be a matter of life or death. Dutch scientist Bart Knols was one of the first to notice that certain species of malaria-carrying mosquitoes are attracted to the smells wafting from our feet. His work has since inspired many of Smallegange’s latest studies at Wageningen University in the Netherlands….

Here’s an interview in 2010, with Lisa Mullins on The World, in which Renate Smallegange discusses how “socks may keep mosquitoes at bay“.

Here’s video of Bart Knols explaining and demonstrating the basics of smelly foot research:

As with many things, Bill Gates is peripherally involved in the smelly foot research efforts, says a report headlined “Bill and Melinda Gates to fight malaria in Africa using smelly socks.”

 

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