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THERE. NOW THAT I have your attention, I’ll cite “Atmospheric Scientists Join Pheromone Quest” by Kai Kupferschmidt, in Science, April 12, 2019. And, before we’re done here today, there’s an R&T pheromone tidbit.
Researchers specializing on matters of atmospheric change are also getting involved with a search for the human pheromone, a chemical similar to what female silkmoths use in mating.
A pheromone, in its broadest sense, is a specie’s secretion or excretion that triggers a social response in members of the same species. Bombykol, isolated by German biochemist Adolf Butenandt in 1959, was the first identified pheromone, the one affecting silkmoths. AAAS Science author Kai Kupferschmidt notes, “… generations of researchers have looked for similarly powerful chemicals in humans. But they haven’t identified a single one.”
A Complex Study. According to zoologist Tristram Wyatt of the University of Oxford, “Smell is the Cinderella of human senses.” AAAS Science author Kupferschmidt observes, “Past studies often used small numbers of volunteers and questionable statistical methods.”
Human armpit secretions are one source of volatile compounds. However, Kupferschmidt says, “Most pheromone studies give no more than a snapshot of them, for instance by asking participants to wear a T-shirt for a night or putting pads under their armpits, and then analyzing captured compounds with a mass spectrometer.”
Atmospheric Science to the Rescue. Proton transfer reaction mass spectrography is an important tool for atmospheric scientists. As its name suggests, PTR-MS transfers a proton to volatile compounds in the air and then analyzes their mass from how they move in an electric field. Psychologist Craig Roberts of the U.K.’s University of Sterling says, “You can eliminate a lot of hay from the haystack we have been searching through.”
Cheering Fans and Movie Lovers. Researchers wondered about the air at a soccer match after a goal was scored. Alas, the match ended at 0-0; but the technique did identify acetonitrile, a component of cigarette smoke, at halftime.
Movies proved a more reliable setting for measuring human emotions. Researcher Jonathan Williams at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry reports, “In The Hunger Games, you could tell exactly when the heroine starts the big showdown fight.” Audience respiration levels caused a spike in CO2, and an isoprene level could have been traceable to twitching muscles.
Love versus Fear. Andreas Natsch is a researcher at Givaudan, a fragrance company in Vernier, Switzerland. He says, “It used to be all about love and now, in the age of Trump, fear and aggression are the important topics.”
Kupferschmidt observes “… a change after many years when pheromone research has searched for signals linked to sexual attraction and mate choice, which some now think may be harder to find.”
R&T and Pheromones. For years, R&T carried ads for an alleged pheromone product. Noted one evidently happy user in June 2012, “This 10X works! Women—they stop dead in their tracks!”
R&T staff members were skeptical, but reluctant to test the product. No one was willing to be the control subject. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019