Genetic relatedness assessment through individual odour similarities in mice

Giora Heth, Josephine Todrank, Nicolas Busquet, Claude Baudoin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research has demonstrated that closer genetic relatedness between individuals (from kin to across species) is associated with greater similarity in the qualities of their individual odours ('odour-genes covariance'). This predictable relationship between individual genotypes and individual odours could enable animals to assess their degree of genetic relatedness to other individuals by comparing the degree of similarity between another individual's odour and their own odour. In two-choice tests with odours of unfamiliar mice from different populations and species, subjects from two species of wild mice, Mus spicilegus and M. musculus, that had been raised in mixed litters of both species spent signifcantly more time investigating the ano-genital odour of the more genetically similar individual. This differential interest was not affected by common rearing with heterospecifics. These responses are consistent with a self-referencing mechanism enabling differential responses across a wide spectrum of genetic relatedness from kin through populations to heterospecifics. These assessments depend on the degree of similarity between the donor's and the subject's odours rather than on differences between them. Such a parsimonious mechanism may provide a basis for differential responses to conspecifics as opposed to heterospecifics that may function as a premating isolating mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-603
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2003


  • Chemical communication
  • Kin recognition
  • Odour preferences
  • Recognition mechanism
  • Species discrimination
  • Species recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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