Sexing up the human pheromone story: How a corporation started a scientific myth

20 March 2015

Emeritus Fellow Tristram Wyatt, a zoologist, writes about the myths and the science behind the search for human pheromones in an article for the Guardian, based on his paper published in Proceedings B: Tristram writes ‘…The birth place of the pheromone myth was a 1991 conference in Paris sponsored by a US corporation, EROX, which had an interest in patenting androstadienone and another molecule – estratetraenol, from women – as ‘human pheromones’. Unwittingly, leading mammalian olfaction scientists lent the conference credibility. Slotted into the programme and conference proceedings was the short ‘study-zero’ paper…To my surprise, the authors gave no details at all of how these molecules had been extracted, identified, and tested in bioassays – all routinely required steps in the exhaustive process before any molecule can be shown to be a species-wide chemical signal, a pheromone. Instead there was just a footnote: ‘These putative pheromones were supplied by EROX Corporation. The missing, essential details were never published… to find [real human pheromones] we’ll need to treat ourselves like a newly discovered mammal and look properly. Rigorous techniques have enabled us to successfully identify pheromones in many other mammals. However, it’s not easy as the pheromone molecules are hidden among the many hundreds of different molecules that mammals, including ourselves, give off…’ Read the full article here.