Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Great Pheromone Debate

By far the most contentious topic in the chemical senses is whether or not humans produce and respond to pheromones—sex pheromones in particular. That this is still a matter for debate, fifty years after the coining of the term “pheromone”, will surprise some people. Others, like myself, are simply frustrated that despite thousands of experiments and scientific publications, the issue is not yet settled.

My sense of the field is that things are changing and a resolution may be at hand. It’s something I hope to explore on FirstNerve in the coming weeks. 

To start things off, I’ve linked to this excellent mini-lecture by Dr. Tristram Wyatt, a specialist in pheromones and chemical communication in the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology. His topic is “Success of the smelliest: Pheromones and evolution.” In twelve minutes, Wyatt puts the notion of human sexual pheromones into a clear and concise historical context. Have a look.


queen_cupcake said...

Pretty interesting. Is it likely that what we refer to as "human pheromone" is actually a combination of several molecules out of the hundreds of identified chemicals?

Avery Gilbert said...


Most excellent question, grasshopper. The most widely cited definitions state that a pheromone is composed of a single, or at most three or four, different molecules. Yet it's been argued that no single bullet has been identified for humans.

Thereby hangs a tale. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Thank you for sharing this.