Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Love at First... Smell

Yes, I nicked the title from EurekAlert. It's a good title: researchers have investigated the impact of Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) types on attraction via smell, and showed that by mimicking the "right" MHC type with perfume, they could make previously unattractive males into irresistible"superhunks", judged by the behaviour of the females. (having the right combination of MHC:s from mum and dad will get you a better immune system, thus increasing your chance of survival) The research was conducted on fish, but since the mechanisms are believed to be the same for most vertebrates, it might be applicable to humans as well.

I clearly remember this being investigated before, also in humans, but do not really want to track down the references. I'm not sure that this will be very relevant in a real-life situtation for humans anyway, since we a) shower/wash very often b) wear all kinds of synthetic perfumes to cover up remaining olfactory emanations and c) tend to choose partners based on lots of other input besides smell anyway (try to explain people meeting each other and falling in love say, over Internet, with that they like each other's smell, or consider the reasons people dress up before going out).

The reason perfume companies will not really be jumping up and down with glee even if this turned out to be the single big factor? Well, that everybody is bound to need a different kind of coctail of MHC-mimicing chemicals to impress on someone, of course. "Please attach DNA sample of your love interest. Your personalized Attraction In A Bottle will arrive within six weeks" is not really that feasible. But it does give an interesting spin on those fairytales where you have to collect three strands of hair from your beloved for the witch to be able to concot a love potion. And come to think of it, old "folk wisdom" as snaring your intended with an apple that you have carried in your armpit for at least 24 hours (iick!) actually carries some weight, in the light of this.

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