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The most famous are the “Sweaty T-Shirt Experiments.” Conducted by a Swiss evolutionary biologist named Claus Wedekind in the mid-90s, the studies involved a handful of college students with unshaved armpits wearing cotton t-shirts for a few days in a row, then handing them over to other college students to sniff and rate on intensity and pleasantness.
It found that women who were not on the pill were more likely to select the shirts of men who had the greatest genetic difference in a certain area of chromosome six—one that codes for something called the major histocompatibility complex, or MHC.
For some 40 million Americans like Plata, who have yet to find lasting love online, it’s a tantalizing prospect.
But the science behind genetic attraction is shaky ground to build a relationship on, let alone a commercial enterprise.
MHC proteins are responsible for helping the immune system recognize invaders, and the idea of linking these immune system genes with sexual attraction goes all the way back to 1976.
It’s a selection of these MHC genes, 11 of them, that Pheramor is comparing when it looks at its users’ DNA.
When I asked co-founder and CEO Asma Mirza which pheromones those genes were connected to, she demurred.
“We don’t really look at the pheromones, that’s something that gets confusing for people,” she said.
If human pheromones actually elicited the kinds of behaviors we see in other mammals the subways of New York City would be in a constant state of mayhem with people hopping all over each other.”, University of Oxford zoologist Tristram Wyatt came to much the same conclusion.
“Pheromones have really caught the public imagination, particularly in association with sex or desire,” he says.