Scientists unlock gene that holds the secret of scent

Scientists have found the first hard evidence to support the existence of the elusive sex chemicals called pheromones that form part of an innate communication system between men and women.

Scientists have found the first hard evidence to support the existence of the elusive sex chemicals called pheromones that form part of an innate communication system between men and women.

Although there is circumstantial evidence to support the existence of human pheromones, all attempts at isolating them have failed.

Now a team of geneticists and neuroscientists has identified a human gene that is similar to the pheromone-detecting genes of rodents. They also found that the gene is active in the human nose.

Peter Mombaerts, who led the team at The Rockefeller University in New York, believes the gene is responsible for producing a protein in the nasal cavity which detects human pheromones by acting as a receptor molecule, much as a lock is only opened by a certain key.

"We have shown that contrary to the prevailing notion in the field, the human genome contains at least one gene that encodes a candidate pheromone receptor," Professor Mombaerts said.

The research, published in the journal Nature Genetics, may go some way to convincing the sceptics who believe that human pheromones are a figment of the collective imagination of psychologists and perfume companies.

Pheromones are hormone-like chemicals emitted by one individual to influence the physiology of another.Professor Mombaerts approach was based on a direct comparison of the 100 or so pheromone genes of mice, known as the V1r [correct] family, with the DNA code revealed by the human genome project.

He found eight potential genes in humans which correspond directly to some of the mouse genes but only one of these genes, called V1RL1 [correct upper cases], was found to be a true, active gene.

Professor Mombaerts believes the other seven "pseudo-genes" may indicate that whatever pheromone-detection there is between men and women it is has deteriorated during the period since man and mouse shared a common ancestor tens of millions of years ago.

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