Do human body odours serve a purpose?

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Randall Carlson

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Do human body odours serve a purpose?
« on: 13/11/2009 19:30:04 »
Randall Carlson  asked the Naked Scientists:
Love the show, Chris.

I've only recently become addicted to listening, but I've been wading through downloaded podcasts at a rate of two per day while I ride my bicycle here in California . So, I'm a bit behind.
Question: Why have you turned your nose up at the larger questions surrounding Kat's smelly feet?  Her misfortune's the talk of everyone here in America and brings up the question of the role of smelly body parts in human evolution.

Smelly bodies must have served some function, or only those few people with a naturally florid fragrance would have survived natural selection. Did feet like Kat's repel predators? Would they have attracted proto-humans of the opposite sex? Has the human sense of smell or the bacteria that favor human moist places recently evolved in different directions?
Suggestion: Your show almost completely avoids the issue of "Ethics and Science." How about a show on the theme of "The Ten Greatest Scientific Solutions that Caused Human Calamity."  Patented, genetically engineered rice seems to be looming as a long-term disaster.
Comment: Your show has stimulated my interest in science, if linguistics is a science. It's entertaining to listen to English from Texas , South Africa , and Australia , but the very best are the various British regional accents. The fellow who replaced all of his Rs with a W sound was straight out of Monty Python. Ee was a vewy wespectabo and pwactico scientist.  I am a Spanish teacher, serving those few in California who are not native speakers. Spanish is a language for which there is a one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds. Perhaps DNA software can be used to analyze when and where the mutations to English took place.

What do you think?


Offline RD

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Do human body odours serve a purpose?
« Reply #1 on: 13/11/2009 20:12:53 »
It has been suggested that MHC {Major Histocompatibility Complex} plays a role in the selection of potential mates, via olfaction. MHC genes make molecules that enable the immune system to recognise invaders; in general, the more diverse the MHC genes of the parents the stronger the immune system of the offspring. It would be beneficial, therefore, to have evolved systems of recognizing individuals with different MHC genes and preferentially selecting them to breed with.

Yamazaki et al. (1976) showed this to be the case for male mice, which show a preference for females of different MHC. Similar results have been obtained with fish.

In 1995, Swiss biologist Claus Wedekind determined MHC-dissimilar mate selection tendencies in humans. In the experiment, a group of female college students smelled t-shirts that had been worn by male students for two nights, without deodorant, cologne, or scented soaps. An overwhelming number of women preferred the odors of men with dissimilar MHCs to their own.
« Last Edit: 13/11/2009 20:53:19 by RD »