The MacGuffin

Spit and Smell Your Way to Marital Bliss

Posted by Lauren Rugani on April 13, 2009

Image courtesy of Frans De Waal

Image courtesy of Frans De Waal

It’s no secret that many mammals choose their mates based on smell. The body has a collection of genes called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) that help the immune system identify foreign cells, like viruses or bacteria, and determine the appropriate course of action against them. Hundreds of variations of these genes exist in humans, and the more different types a person has, the more pathogens their bodies are capable of fighting off. If mates have extremely different MHC variations, their offspring will be better equipped to fend off disease, and some scientists speculate that mammals can determine such genetic dissimilarity through smell. Specific MHC combinations are transmitted through bodily fluids and are present on the surface of the skin, and a small pit inside of the nose called the vomeronasal organ detects pheromones and other molecules, including ones from the MHC.

Now a Swiss startup company is taking a cue from evolutionary biology and bringing olfactory recognition to the online dating scene. While online matchmakers claim to analyze dozens of “compatibility factors,” the three-man team of basisnote point out that determining chemistry between two people (literally) relies heavily on smell – a key component that current online singles databases can’t provide. No, they aren’t going to install pheremone-spewing hardware on your PC. It’s as simple as taking an at-home saliva test (similar to a DIY pregnancy test), which creates a digital code representing your individual odor profile that can be uploaded onto your personals page. If a potential suitor has also uploaded an odor code, a computer test can analyze the similarities and determine genetic compatibility.

How romantic. At the very least it might discourage inbreeding.

The company also has plans to explore the perfume industry, which sounds like it might be a conflict of interest. They don’t, however, have plans to operate their own dating site, and instead are opting to collaborate with existing services. They won’t reveal the lucky company until the fall, but my money is on chemistry.com, because, well, that just makes scents.

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