Analysis of Human Scent



Escobar, Erik

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The science of extracting, analyzing, and identifying small molecule metabolites from a complex sample matrix is known as metabolomics. Volatilomics is specialized metabolomics, focused on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emanating from biological samples such as exhaled breath and the skin. With potential applications in forensics, rapid medical diagnostics, and biothreat detection, volatilomics has recently become of great interest. In this MS thesis, four VOC analysis techniques were assessed to determine their impact on the derived human scent volatilome; 1) a localized “trap and contain” approach using a custom-built hand-held VOC entrapment device, which combined with solid-phase microextraction (SPME), traps and captures the VOCs emitted from the skin, 2) a “gauze swipe-SPME” approach to skin VOC collection, using a gauze sorbent pad and modified airtight jar custom designed to accommodate SPME, 3) a “gauze swipe-TD” approach, using a gauze sorbent pad and airtight jar custom designed to accommodate thermal desorption (TD) tubes, and 4) a “BodPod-TD” approach, using a whole-body chamber custom designed to entirely enclose a person and capture their emitted VOCs using TD. With each of these four techniques, the captured VOCs were analyzed via gas chromatography (GC), coupled with either a flame ionization detector (GC-FID) or a mass spectrometer (GC-MS). Comparative analysis offers insight into important considerations for each technique and VOC analyses overall, and highlights the BodPod-TD technique as the best suited method of those tested for human scent analysis.


This thesis has been embargoed for 2 years. It will not be available until December 2023 at the earliest.


Human VOC, Method development, VOC, Metabolomics, Analytical chemistry, Untargeted analysis