"Janek Lobmaier of the University of Bern, in Switzerland, and his colleagues, looked at the question of smell. Their work appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. Lisa DeBruine of the University of Glasgow, in Britain, and her colleagues looked, in a paper posted to bioRxiv, an online database, at eye colour — specifically, whether the eyes of someone’s lover match those of a pertinent parent.
Dr Lobmaier and his team were testing the idea that people literally sniff out partners with appropriate major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes. Individuals with more diverse sets of MHC genes have stronger immune systems. Mates with different MHC genes are thus likely to have healthier offspring. MHC genes also affect body odour, so it is no surprise that many species of animal choose, on the basis of odour, mates with dissimilar MHC genes.
Whether people follow suit, though, is unclear. Experiments have produced equivocal results. So, to nail things down, Dr Lobmaier recruited 42 female odour donors and 94 male odour raters, all of whom gave blood samples that he analysed to determine which versions of six different MHC genes they possessed. Every man was asked to rate the smell of eight women, collected on a cotton pad held overnight in the armpit of the woman in question. Crucially, which had not been the case in previous work, these samples were all collected at the point in the volunteers’ menstrual cycles when their fertility was at its peak. Four of the eight were from women with similar MHCs to the man doing the sniffing, and four were from women with dissimilar MHCs."
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