Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hormonal Manipulation of Olfactory Cues, or How to Lose a Guy in 10 days

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Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) at Berenty Pri...Image via Wikipedia
Body odors are important cues used for social and sexual discrimination. As was shown many times, animals can easily smell age-, health- and genetics-related  differences.  Recent study of our large-eyed relatives, ring-tailed lemurs, demonstrate that drugs can alter body scents and change behavior.

Researchers examined changes in endocrine and  semiochemical profiles of sexually mature female lemurs treated with hormonal contraceptives during their breeding season. Genetic diversity and kinship were estimated using 11–14 microsatellite loci and pairwise genetic distances. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS) was used to detect the volatile compounds in odor. A rater blind to the treatments scored lemur male behavior in regards to female odors. 

The conclusion? Contraceptives change chemical ‘signature’, minimizing distinctiveness and genetic fitness cues. No more can the males determine which females are genetically and physically beautiful. All contracepted females lost their individuality and started to smell funny.  

What about hormones and chemicals in our food?  Maybe one day humans will wake up and realize that something is lost? May it will happen  sooner rather than later...

For those interested in helping with our research of human environmental malodor - check our studies or this call for collaboration.

Jeremy Chase Crawford,, Marylène Boulet,, & Christine M. Drea (2010). Smelling wrong: hormonal contraception in lemurs alters critical female odour cues Proc. R. Soc. B published online before print July 28, 2010

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Odor-prints: individual but genetic connections unclear

Odor is like fingerprints or facial features - it's unique.  Yet no single measurement could be easily applied to recognize an individual.

GC/MS measurements can be used to analyze mixtures of acids, alcohols, aldehydes, hydrocarbons, esters, ketones, and nitrogenous molecules in human odor. Complex algorithms mining patterns help to pinpoint the signatures. But could these signatures be easily derived from genetic makeups?

Recent article published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology looked at the usual suspects -  major histocompatibility locus (MHC) and found that these genes do not determine major patterns. 

Volatile carboxylic acids are the most diverse class of known axillary odorants, and the pattern of these acids is genetically determined. These acids  - like vast majority of human odorous compounds - are produced by human microbiome, in this case by skin bacteria. Odors of 12 families, comprising 3 to 6 siblings,were analyzed with comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography (GC x GC) and time-of-flight mass spectrometry (ToF MS). the analysis onfirmed the presence of individual signatures. but failed to find odors specific to HLA genes.

Even though paternally inherited HLA-associated odors were proposed to influence women odor preferences, genetic basis of odors may be more complicated than previously thought.

Natsch A, Kuhn F, & Tiercy JM (2010). Lack of Evidence for HLA-Linked Patterns of Odorous Carboxylic Acids Released from Glutamine Conjugates Secreted in the Human Axilla. Journal of chemical ecology PMID: 20623248

Thompson EE, Haller G, Pinto JM, Sun Y, Zelano B, Jacob S, McClintock MK, Nicolae DL, Ober C. (2010) Sequence variations at the human leukocyte antigen-linked olfactory receptor cluster do not influence female preferences for male odors. Hum Immunol. 2010 Jan;71(1):100-3. PMID: 19833159 
Jacob S, McClintock MK, Zelano B, Ober C (2002) Paternally inherited HLA alleles are associated with women's choice of male odor. Nature Genet 30: 175-179  PMID: 11799397  PDF

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