It's in the Air

| September 21, 2000

It's in the Air,New Scientist
Scientists have long believed that pheromones, mysterious chemicals common in many insects and mammals that communicate everything from fright to sexual desire, could not be detected by humans. But according to the British magazine New Scientist, new research from a team at Rockefeller University shows that humans may be able to pick up pheromone signals after all. The researchers, led by geneticist Peter Mombaerts, discovered eight DNA sequences in humans that are similar to genes for mouse or rat pheromone receptors. But many questions still remain. In particular, as the prevailing theory about phermones suggests, the mere existence of pheromone receptors does not mean that they are active. Could they just be vestigial remains of organs we inherited from distant ancestors who did use pheromones to communicate? One study at the University of Chicago showed in 1998 that menstruation can be synchronized by pheromones, yet there's little other evidence of pheromonal communication between people. New Scientist suggests that you might want to wait before rushing out to buy perfumes claiming to contain pheromones. --Leif Utne
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