Field of Science

Love is in the air (and microbes too)

With Valentine’s day fast approaching and love being well and truly in the air it got me thinking, could the bacteria we live with be somewhat involved?

The bacteria living in a commensal, symbiotic or sometimes pathogenic relationship with us are often deemed separate organisms that have no influence on humans, be it by matters of the mind, or the heart. We feel in control of our feelings and our minds, how could an organism so tiny, and nowhere near as complex, influence us?
Well, love is often described as an incontrollable feeling that ‘just happens’ and causes us to often do crazy things.
The Hologenome theory states that the host (humans) plus all of its microbiota (bacteria in the gut etc.) is a single unit (I. Z. Rosenberg & E. Rosenberg 2008). This microbiota plays an important role in health and disease within humans. Therefore, this theory of the relationship between us and our bacteria, seems to make sense.
Our own natural scent (body odor) is unique to every one of us. Bacteria feed on the unique, individual proteins on our skin and release these gasses which become our personal scent. We also produce ‘pheromones’ that are different for men and women and also aid in attraction. It may not smell as sweet as the ‘flowered scented’ perfume, but it’s said to play a part in human attraction and love.
Not only can our bacteria influence when we’re ill and how we digest food – they may also be involved in our personalities, and even our love lives!
A study has shown that our gut microbiota and our brain ‘communicate’ which can influence personality and memory (J. F. Cryan & S. M. O’Mahoney 2011). The term ‘gut feeling’ might actually mean something, and your personality is also an attractive tool when looking for love.
It’s not just our personality our gut can influence. Scientists have been able to change the sexual preferences of fruit flies by altering their gut microbiota (G. Sharon et al. 2010). These scientists showed how a certain bacterial species could influence mating. Could this happen to humans? No studies have been done to show how our own microbiota may influence our sexual choice. However, due to all of us having varied diets, and therefore varied microbiota, it could be possible. So our gut bacteria may have a part to play when it comes to finding ‘the one’.

Happy Valentine's Day :-)

I. Z. Rosenberg & E. Rosenberg (2008)

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