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Molecular genetics and olfactory communication in primates

Olfaction has been neglected in primate studies but olfactory communication is of profound importance in many species. Well-developed scent glands and specialized scent-marking behaviours are common. Tamarins can discriminate sex, age and probably individuals dependent on odour, and odour forms part of the mechanism of inhibition of ovulation of subordinate female marmosets by dominant female group members. Pheromonal communication in humans, apes and Old World monkeys is more enigmatic, not least since the main sensory system for pheromones, the vomeronasal system, is vestigial and probably non-functional in these species. Nevertheless, intriguing experiments in humans suggest that mate preference, and possibly mate choice, are influenced by body odours.

We are interested in the molecular evolution of various gene families involved in primate olfactory communication, including olfactory receptor genes, vomeronasal receptor genes, and genes for odorant binding proteins.

References

Mundy, N. I. (2005) The genetic basis of olfactory communication in primates. American Journal of Primatology 68, 559 - 567.

Mundy, N. I. and Cook, S. (2003) Positive selection during the diversification of class I vomeronasal receptor-like (V1RL) genes, putative pheromone receptor genes, in human and primate evolution. Molecular Biology and Evolution 20, 1805 - 1810.

Whinnett, A. and N. I. Mundy. (2003) Isolation of novel olfactory receptor genes in marmosets: insights into pseudogene formation and evidence for functional degeneracy in non-human primates. Gene 304, 87-96.