The judges of the Google International Online Science Fair that kicked off in January — which sought entries from students aged 13 to 18 — have recently identified 60 semi-finalists and are now asking the public to choose one of them to win the People's Choice Award, says GrrlScientist at the Guardian's Punctuated Equilibrium. One such semi-finalist, the UK's Georgia Bondy, presented a project at the fair that she called "I can taste your DNA," in which she sought to determine whether humans can assess their genetic compatibility with a potential mate via taste, GrrlScientist says. The biological basis for this question is the major histocompatibility complex genes, a large family found in most vertebrates that encodes proteins for the immune system, though it also includes a large subsection of genes that have nothing to do with immunology. "There is evidence from mice and a number of fish species that the ability to assess a potential mate's MHC by odor and taste plays a role in mate choice," GrrlScientist says. "The 'compatible genes hypothesis' proposes that animals select mates whose MHC is dissimilar to their own to avoid inbreeding and to increase the genetic diversity of their offspring. There is some evidence to suggest this may also be the situation in humans," she adds. In Bondy's small-scale study, she found that taste may be useful when a male is either strongly attracted to or repulsed by a female, GrrlScientist adds. The winner of the People's Choice vote will receive a $10,000 scholarship.
Yum, Tastes Like Base Pairs
May 11, 2011