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Mandrills. The world’s largest species of monkey ‘chooses’ mates with genes that are different from their own to guarantee healthy and strong offspring, according to a new research study.

The world’s largest species of monkey ‘chooses’ mates with genes that are different from their own to guarantee healthy and strong offspring, according to a new research study.

The results obtained from mandrills, a species closely related to humans, support the disputed theory that humans are attracted to those with a dissimilar genetic make up to maintain genetic diversity.

Female mandrills are more likely to reproduce with males whose genes are complementary, possibly because they ‘smell out’ suitable candidates, according to the research team whose results are reported in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

The research team, which involved scientists from Durham, Cambridge and Montpellier universities, and researchers in Gabon, Central Africa, analysed blood samples and reproduction patterns of around 200 mandrills living in Gabon.

Although it is not entirely clear how the females work out whose genes complement theirs, the researchers believe it might be done through smell. Monkeys know their own body smell, which is partly determined by their genes. They will sniff out the males whose body odour is different giving an indication that their genetic make up is likely to be unlike theirs, say the scientists.

In addition to the potential role of smell, the researchers speculate that female mandrills may ‘choose’ their mates through selective fertilisation. This is where the female mates with a number of males but her body rejects sperm from males with a similar genetic makeup and ‘picks’ those with genes which complement the female’s own.

Lead author, Dr Jo Setchell from Durham University’s Anthropology Department, said: “This is an important advance in our knowledge of how mate selection works in monkeys. We now need to dig deeper and establish how they do this. I think smell is a strong candidate here.

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