ABCC11 gene: Ear wax and no body odor

The ABCC11 gene determines both the type of earwax a person has and their armpit odor. A change in a single spot in the DNA of this gene can cause the gene not to function.

This article explains what the ABCC11 gene does and how to check your 23andMe or AncestryDNA raw data.

ABCC11 gene: transporting molecules for ear wax and more

In a nutshell:

  • People with a functioning ABCC11 gene have wet earwax and body odor.
  • People with the ABCC11 non-functioning gene variant have dry earwax and little or no body odor.

Genetic variants that cause a loss-of-function of the ABCC11 gene are very common among East Asian populations (80-90% of the population), but fairly rare in other populations (1 – 3% of Caucasians).

What does the ABCC11 gene do?

The ABCC11 gene (ATP-binding cassette transporter sub-family C member 11) encodes a protein involved in transporting molecules across cellular membranes. ABCC11 is important for the transport of lipophilic compounds, bile acids, conjugated steroids, and – important here –  the substance in apocrine sweat and in earwax, thus causing body odor and wet earwax.

For people who have loss-of-function genetic variants, the transporter doesn’t work and doesn’t transfer the odor-causing lipids into your armpits.  No body odor!

What else is this gene important for?

Variants of this gene are also involved in resistance to antiviral and anticancer drugs.[ref]

The wet earwax allele was also associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in Japanese women, but not in women of European descent.[ref][ref][ref]

In Japanese men, carrying the allele associated with wet earwax is linked with an increased risk of hidradenitis suppurativa.[ref]

Do you need to wear deodorant if you have the ABCC11 gene variant?

There was an interesting article in Scientific American a few years ago looking into the fact that those who genetically don’t have smelly pits often unnecessarily still wear deodorant.[ref]

Other research showed that those with the ‘no body odor’ variant sometimes had other sources of body odor or social reasons for wearing deodorant.[ref]


Genetics: How to find your ABCC11 gene variant


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ABCC11 gene:

Check your genetic data for rs17822931 (View your data on 23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):

  • C/C: wet earwax, body odor, and normal colostrum[ref][ref]
  • C/T: wet earwax, somewhat less body odor
  • T/T: dry earwax, no body odor, and less colostrum

Members: Your genotype for rs17822931 is .

 


Lifehacks:

Chemotherapy and cancer:

Changes in the ABCC11 gene may impact your reaction to a type of chemotherapy drug called fluorouracil. [ref] Talk with your doctor if you have concerns here.

Diet and Supplements: 

A recent study showed that a compound in soybeans, Genistein, inhibits ABCC11.  If you have problems with body odor or excessive sweating, look into whether soybean consumption or genistein supplements may help.  Keep in mind that genistein is a phytoestrogen that may mimic estrogenic effects, so it may not be the right choice for everyone. [ref]

Luteolin, nobiletin, and hesperitin may also inhibit the ABCC11 transporter. [ref] (Read more about hesperitin.)


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Author Information:   Debbie Moon
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. She holds a Master of Science in Biological Sciences from Clemson University and an undergraduate degree in engineering from Colorado School of Mines. Debbie is a science communicator who is passionate about explaining evidence-based health information. Her goal with Genetic Lifehacks is to bridge the gap between the research hidden in scientific journals and everyone's ability to use that information. To contact Debbie, visit the contact page.