The scent of age

Kazumi Osada, Kunio Yamazaki, Maryanne Curran, Judith Bard, Benjamin P. C. Smith, Gary K. Beauchamp

Abstract

In many species, older males are often preferred mates because they carry ‘good’ genes that account for their viability. How females discern a male's age is a matter of question. However, for animals that rely heavily on chemical communication there is some indication that an animal's age can be determined by its scent. To investigate whether there are changes in body odours with age, and if so their composition, mice were trained in a Y–maze to discriminate urine odours of donor mice of different ages: Adult (3–10 months old) and Aged (more than 17 months old). Trained mice could discriminate between these two age groups by odour alone. To determine the chemical basis for these discriminations, studies were performed using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. These analyses demonstrated differences in the ratio of urinary volatiles with age. The most prominent differences involved significantly greater amounts of 2–phenylacetamide and significantly lower amounts of methylbutyric acids in Aged animals relative to Adult animals. Fractionating and manipulating the levels of these compounds in the urine demonstrated that the mice can distinguish age based on variation in amounts of these specific compounds in the combined urine.