Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

Pheromone Follies

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Just a dab of Realm or Desire 22 will make you sexually irresistible--or so say ads for these popular, alleged human sex pheromones. The latest research throws some cold water on their claims. Neurobiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University recently reported that a mutated gene in humans may render our ancestral pheromone detector useless.

In many mammals, pheromones are sniffed out by the vomeronasal organ, two small pits or tubes behind the nostrils. Some mice are so dependent on this sixth sense that they become sexually dysfunctional if the organ is removed. Despite keen interest from scientists and would-be Romeos, nobody has pinpointed a human pheromone. Moreover, the vomeronasal organ in humans shrinks during fetal development, and by birth may contain no nerve cells.

Emily Liman of Massachusetts General Hospital makes an even stronger case that people don't respond to pheromones the way other animals do. In rats, wafting pheromones cause chemical receptors to open tiny pores called ion channels, which send nerve signals to the brain. Liman and her colleagues believe they've identified the gene for these pheromone ion channels. But the equivalent gene in humans is mutated and nonfunctional, they found. If humans respond to pheromones, "they'd probably have to do so through different mechanisms than most other mammals," says Liman.

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In