Genes mean ladies like friends and partners that smell like their father.
Nice smile but does he smell like dad?
Bachelors - ditch the Old Spice and don your prospective father-in-laws clothes. Women prefer the scent of their dad, a study shows, and may choose their friends and partners accordingly.
Nervous new boyfriends can live or die by the nod of a dates daunting dad. But Carole Ober and her team at the University of Chicago in Illinois have found a more fundamental fatherly influence: women prefer the smells of men whose gene selection matches their dads1.
Sniffing the sheets
Women in Obers study snuffed mens two-night-old T-shirts. "Think of what your pillow and sheets smell like," suggests McClintock. These scents were presented to women, disguised in a box, alongside faint household odours such as clove, bleach and fresh laundry.
Men in the line-up each carried a different array of MHC genes, which are involved in fighting disease. Like vacillating brides, women were asked which scent they would choose if they had to smell it for the rest of their lives.
Women chose the scent of men whose array of MHC genes was similar to their own, the team found. The similar genes also matched, and were inherited from, the womans father.
Their choice was not down to familiarity with the odour from childhood. Women did not prefer the smell of a man whose MHC genes matched their fathers but not their own. If the preference were based simply on memory of the fathers smell, women would be less picky. "The genes are driving the preference," says McClintock.
Same but different
Each person carries a unique combination of MHC genes, which help to recognize foreign cells in the body. An earlier smelly T-shirt study showed that women choose men whose selection is different from their own2. This seems to conflict with Obers study, in which women preferred a whiff of genetic similarity.
Inbreeding with genetically similar partners can cause problems in children - but outbreeding with partners whose genes are totally different can also spell trouble. Choosing partners with an intermediate blend of disease-fighting genes may give future children the best chance of survival, the team suggests.
HELEN PEARSON | © Nature News Service
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