If you've found yourself in that situation where all your friends are dating someone and you're still single, don't worry about it! You may just have superior mate locating abilities and refuse to settle for anything but the best! It's time that we, the great smellers of the world unite, and realize that when the right person comes along, we'll smell 'em!
The idea that we are able to sniff out a good boyfriend/girlfriend may sound a bit strange at first but it actually forms an exciting area of study within Evolutionary Psychology - a budding field that tries to explain current human traits by studying the evolution of early humans (as far back as Homo erectus!).
It is believed that the first Homo sapiens were descendants of Homo erectus, though the point in time that this transformation took place is still debated
The Immune System: A Key to Mating
All mammals have a large gene family called the Major Histocompatability Complex (MHC). This complex helps create an animal's immune response by producing molecules that allow it to eliminate foreign bodies (i.e. colds, diseases, etc).
Proteins created by the MHC serve as cell surface markers, labelling cells as either self or nonself. These markers tell T-cells (a type of immune response cell) which cells are invaders so that they can be eliminated
MHCs are very unique amongst individuals. This means that people with diverse MHC genes do not get sick as easily and have an easier time fighting off illnesses.
From an evolutionary perspective, this is pretty important. Before the dawn of modern medicine, it was difficult to combat illnesses. So,if you wanted to have healthy children, you needed to mate with an individual whose MHC complex was very different from your own.
A number of studies have already found that mice and birds prefer to mate with individuals that have MHC complexes that differ markedly from their own. What's even more interesting though is that recent studies have now found that we can actually smell these ideal MHC mates!
In a study done on humans, college aged men were asked to sleep in the same t-shirt for one week. At the end of that week (when the shirts definitely smelt!) females were given the t-shirts and asked to smell them. All of the females preferred the 'smell' of the males with MHC complexes that were the most different from their own.
Pheromones are chemical signals released by one organism to cause a behavioural or physiological response in another organism. Like MHC's, they are known to operate in mate preference in a number of animal species.
The ability to smell your ideal partner means a number of things.First, try never to have a stuffed nose. Second, no matter how much you like someone, if they don't smell good to you, you might want to think about moving on! Finally, pheromones are also important, so avoid individuals with lots of fragrances (aka fragrances that hide pheromones) and spend some extra sniffing around in gym class!
Evolution Library: Sweaty t-shirts and human mate choice
Structure and Function of the Major Histocompatability Complex(MHC) Proteins
Crystal is a Masters student at the Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology. Her research focuses on sexual selection in insects (mainly crickets). A former amateur boxer/kick boxer, Crystal now trains teens in boxing at a local community centre.