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Genetic Markers Influence Scent Preferences

Written by Jennifer Dublino, on January 9th, 2012

Like what you smell? Check your DNA!

You may be familiar with the research study showing that people are more attracted to the scent of people of the opposite sex with dissimilar MHC genes. The explanation for this is that scent is the vehicle for making mate choices with the strongest possibility of producing healthy offspring. A new research study, however, asks whether these same MHC genes influence fragrance preferences, and they found that the answer is yes.

Some of the fragrance elements tested were preferred by a majority of the study participants, and some less so. For example, tolu, a scent sourced from a South American tree and smelling somewhat like vanilla, was the highest rated. On the other side of the spectrum, vetiver, a woody, earthy scent from an Indian grass, was rated the lowest. However, the relative preference for the fragrances was heavily influenced by the participant’s MHC gene makeup.

Scientists speculate that the fragrance that people like somehow mirrors or enhances their natural body smell, and therefore serves the same purpose as identifying a potential mate through smell. They say it is too soon to use this data to formulate new fragrances, but suggest that once more data is collected, it may be possible to create scents based on genetics.

As explained by Dr. Rachel Herz at ScentWorld last month, however, odor preferences are strongly linked to an individual’s past emotional connection to that particular smell. Because people are constantly having new emotional experiences, fragrance associations may change over time.

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