As Valentine’s Day approaches, you may be pondering one question: what attracted you to your partner? Was it your similarities? Your shared love of classical music and long walks on the beach?

Well, science tells us that the inspiration for our relationships may not be all that romantic. We’ve all heard that opposites attract, and it may actually be your differences, specifically those related to smell, that help you pick your mate.

First, it’s important to note that attempts to understand our sense of smell are very challenging. On top of that, our natural scents are also very diverse and complicated. So studies that attempt to incorporate both are inherently difficult.

An example of one such study, involves the MHC portion of the genome. In our ongoing attempts to understand the parts that make up the genome, biologists have linked a particular group of genes called the major histocompatibility complex (or the MHC group for short) to both our body’s ability to protect itself against disease and our sense of sexual attraction.

For the study, men were given t-shirts to sleep in for several nights in a row. Women were then asked to smell the t-shirts and rank them in order of their preference. Women tended to prefer the odors of men without similar MHC genes, suggesting not only a link between the MHC group of genes and body odor, but also our preference for MHC genes that differ from our own.  




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