A pheromone is a chemical signal that triggers a natural response in another member of the same species. There are alarm pheromones, food trail pheromones, sex pheromones, and many others that affect behavior or physiology. Their use among insects has been particularly well documented. In addition, some vertebrates and plants communicate by using pheromones.
The term "pheromone" was introduced by Peter Karlson and Martin Lüscher in 1959, based on the Greek word pherein (to transport) and hormone (to stimulate). They are also classified as ecto-hormones. These chemical messengers are transported outside of the body and result in a direct developmental effect on hormone levels or behavioral change. They proposed the term to describe chemical signals from conspecifics which elicit innate behaviours soon after the German Biochemist Adolf Butenandt characterized the first such chemical, Bombykol (a chemically well-characterized pheromone released by the female silkworm to attract mates).
Aggregation pheromones function in defense against predators, mate selection, and overcoming host resistance by mass attack. A group of individuals at one location are referred as aggregation, whether consisting of one sex or both sexes. Male-produced sex attractant have been called aggregation pheromones, because they usually result in the arrival of both sexes at a calling site and increase in density of conspecifics surrounding of the pheromone source. Most sex pheromones are produced by the females and small percentage of sex attractants are produced by males.
Aggregation pheromones have been found in members of the Coleoptera, Hemiptera, Dictyoptera and Orthoptera. In recent decades, the importance of applying aggregation pheromones in the management of the boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis), stored product weevils (Sitophilus zeamais ), Sitophilus granarius, Sitophilus oryzae and pea and bean weevil (Sitona lineatus) has been demonstrated. Aggregation pheromones are among the most ecologically selective pest suppression methods. They are not toxic and they are effective at very low concentrations.
Some species release a volatile substance when attacked by a predator that can trigger flight (in aphids) or aggression (in ants, bees, termites) in members of the same species. Pheromones also exist in plants: certain plants emit alarm pheromones when grazed upon, resulting in tannin production in neighboring plants. These tannins make the plants less appetizing for the herbivore.
Releaser pheromones are powerful attractant molecules that some organisms may use to attract mates from a distance of two miles or more. This type of pheromone generally elicits a rapid response but is quickly degraded. In contrast, a primer pheromone has a slower onset and a longer duration. For example Rabbit (mothers) release mammary pheromones that trigger immediate nursing behavior by their babies.
In animals, sex pheromones indicate the availability of the female for breeding. Male animals may also emit pheromones that convey information about their species and genotype.
Many insect species release sex pheromones to attract a mate, and many lepidopterans (moths and butterflies) can detect a potential mate from as far away as 10 kilometers (6.25 mi). Traps containing pheromones are used by farmers to detect and monitor insect population in orchards. At the microscopic level, a gamete pheromone may provide a trail leading the opposite sex's gametes towards it to accomplish fertilization.
Pheromones are also used in the detection of oestrus in sows. Boar pheromones are sprayed into the sty, and those sows which exhibit sexual arousal are known to be currently available for breeding. Sea urchins release pheromones into the surrounding water, sending a chemical message that triggers other urchins in the colony to eject their sex cells simultaneously.
Few well-controlled scientific studies have ever been published suggesting the possibility of pheromones in humans.
The best known case involves the synchronization of menstrual cycles among women based on unconscious odor cues (the McClintock effect, named after the primary investigator, Martha McClintock, of the University of Chicago). This study exposed a group of women to a whiff of perspiration from other women. It was found that it caused their menstrual cycles to speed up or slow down depending on the time in the month the sweat was collected; before, during, or after ovulation. Therefore, this study proposed that there are two types of pheromone involved: "One, produced prior to ovulation, shortens the ovarian cycle; and the second, produced just at ovulation, lengthens the cycle". However, recent studies and reviews of the McClintock methodology have called into question the validity of her results.
The arm pit has been hypothesized to be a source of human pheromones.It has been suggested that women with irregular menstrual cycles became regular when exposed to male underarm extracts. They hypothesized that male sweat contains pheromones, which mirror how pheromones affect other mammals.
Other studies have demonstrated that the smell of androstadienone, a chemical component of male sweat, maintains higher levels of cortisol in females, and that the compound is detected via the olfactory mucosa. The scientists suggest that the ability of this compound to influence the endocrine balance of the opposite sex makes it a human pheromonal chemosignal. In 2002, a study showed an unnamed synthetic chemical in women's perfume appeared to increase intimate contact with men. The authors hypothesize, but do not demonstrate, that the observed behavioural differences are olfactorily mediated. This and a previous study by the same authors with the still undisclosed "pheromone" preparation has been heavily criticized for having methodological flaws and that upon re-analyzing there was no effect seen.
Other studies have suggested that people might be using odor cues associated with the immune system to select mates who are not closely related to themselves. Using a brain imaging technique, Swedish researchers have shown that homosexual and heterosexual males' brains respond differently to two odors that may be involved in sexual arousal, and that the homosexual men respond in the same way as heterosexual women, though it could not be determined whether this was cause or effect. The study was expanded to include homosexual women; the results were consistent with previous findings meaning that homosexual women were not as responsive to male identified odors, while their response to female cues was similar to heterosexual males. According to the researchers, this research suggests a possible role for human pheromones in the biological basis of sexual orientation. In 2008, it was found using functional magnetic resonance imaging that the right orbitofrontal cortex, right fusiform cortex, and right hypothalamus respond to airborne natural human sexual sweat.
Some body spray advertisers claim that their products contain human sexual pheromones which act as an aphrodisiac. In the 1970s, "copulins" were patented as products which release human pheromones, based on research on rhesus monkeys. Subsequently, androstenone, axillary sweat, and "vomodors" have been claimed to act as human pheromones.
Despite these claims, no pheromonal substance has ever been demonstrated to directly influence human behavior in a peer reviewed study.
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