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Like the MHC, the HLA has genes that influence how one’s immune system recognizes cells as belonging to oneself or an invader; HLA fit is one test used to determine whether or not an organ donor and recipient will be compatible.
If humans were like rodents and insects, they’d sniff out body odor from mates with Goldilocks-like immune genes—not too similar, not too different. In a 2002 study published in , researchers focused on the Hutterites, an isolated American religious community descended from a relatively small number of ancestors. But studies of Hutterite spouses showed that partners didn’t tend to have very similar HLA genes.
For three days and nights I wore the same cotton T-shirt, through sweaty workouts and while I slept. I passed off the damp, stained tee to the New York University researchers who run Smell Dating, who saw it not as an object of disgust, but as boyfriend bait.
They cut my T-shirt into swatches, stuffed them inside little zip-top bags and mailed them to 10 people who’d also signed up for this bizarre social experiment.
“Ew,” my friends would tell me when I’d try to describe it.By sniffing other people’s body odor instead of swiping right on their photos, the thinking goes, we rely on primal bodily intuition.A small but growing trend in social media is to go nose first when it comes to romance: whether by throwing get-togethers that hook people up based on the smell of their T-shirt, like Pheromone Parties, or by matching people based on how similarly they smell the world, like the Israeli social network Smell Space.Smell Dating, then, is a throwback—a way to connect us, at long last, with our most basic, biological mating cues.In the game of “which sense would you most be willing to lose? But evolutionarily, smell is one of the most important senses.