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Love is in the air...

Rhoda-Mary Health

...or is it just your lover's scent? Love sweet love has inspired singers, artists and poets, blacksmiths and cowgirls since the dawn of time. Everyone, that is, except scientists, who – with heartbreaking froideur – have boiled the alchemy of love down to chemistry. Or pheromones, to be exact. Pheromones are molecules secreted by animals (yes, that includes us!) to influence the behaviour of others of our kind. They launch the dance of attraction that leads to mating, children, and the perpetuation of our species. (So that's what that fat little cherub has been dipping his arrows into all along...!) According to evolutionary geneticist Dr Aoife McLysaght, science can explain why, in spite of repeated resolutions to the contrary, we flirt with the office scoundrel rather than cuddling up to the boy next door: we are simply looking for the fittest mate with whom to make the healthiest babies. Forget soul mates and astrological compatibility; we want our kids to wear his genes! So how does our sense of smell determine whose jeans we get into? In a well-known experiment, several women were asked to sniff T-shirts worn by a variety of men. Different women found different T-shirts attractive. Why? Because they could sense an immune-related gene in that stallion smell and were drawn to guys with immunity least like their own. If a couple's immune genes are dissimilar, it suggests they are less likely to be related and less in danger of in-breeding. (I'm not sure how this impacts upon cousins who fall in love, but anyway...!) Inheriting different immune genes from each parent gives a child a healthy mix of diverse genetic material, which in turn leads to a more robust immune system. So it's not your fault if you fancy the bad boys and nasty girls. It's chemical, Mother! Chemical...! But what if your pheromones are on strike and you're spending Valentine's Day alone (again)? Despair not. There is information to suggest that veggie eaters are more attractive and sexy to their partners! Dr Max Lake, Sydney hand surgeon, wine-maker and 'flavourologist' who '[attempted] to understand how taste, smell and flavour shaped humanity,' evolved the fascinating theory that people who eat fresh carrots, parsley and green, leafy vegetables exude different, more attractive pheromones. It makes sense to me. Green leafy veggies and parsley contain lots of deodorising chlorophyll to neutralise pong and allow the free-flow of fresher olfactory vibes...! Try adding lots of greens and fresh raw fruit and veg to your diet and watch your love life blossom :-D Although scent is essential, science suggests other tricky reasons why you might fancy one potential mate over another, including facial features, the way he walks, or the tone of her voice... If you're curious to learn more about the inner workings of love, sashay down to The Science Gallery in Trinity College, Dublin. The Gallery is hosting an expo entitled Love Lab: The Science of Desire until 12 March 2010. Cupid v Darwin? Who's gonna score? You decide! As an incurable romantic, however, I feel compelled to pose a few questions before I depart... How does science explain the heartbreak of unrequited love? If you are drawn to that hot chick's immune genes, why is she – by the same token – not attracted to yours? Waaaah! Why do we fancy people who seem familiar on a 'soul' level? Is it simply a trick of the night? What about personality? In my experience, a quirk of character can turn good-looking into irresistible! How does Darwin explain the slow burn, or suddenly falling in loooove with that lad or lassie you've known forever? Maybe I need a trip to the Love Lab to find out. Or maybe there is more – ultimately – to the mystery of love than meets the electronic eye. Happy Vally Day, One and All xox

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