Subscribe to Newsletter
Techniques & Tools Mass Spectrometry, Gas Chromatography

Unusual Analysis of the Month

If you’re interested in animal behavior, you’ll likely know that olfactory cues can affect how mammals interact with one another. Previously, we highlighted the “alluring” aroma of blood and its effect on carnivores (read article). Now, after conducting research at Duke University, Christine Drea, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, and her student Jeremy Chase Crawford (who has since moved to the University of California) say they can tell whether pregnant lemurs will give birth to a male or female by analyzing the scent secretions of the mother-to-be (1). Drea believes that olfactory cues are often underappreciated, and that their relationship with gestation is poorly understood.

Drea and Crawford collected secretions from ring-tailed lemurs for gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis. They used a measure of “chemical richness” (the number of different chemical compounds) and compared results between nonpregnant and pregnant lemurs. Richness decreased with pregnancy and, importantly, dams bearing male offspring showed a greater decrement in richness than those bearing females, particularly later in gestation.

“It isn’t clear to me yet why dams with sons would show such a decrement. But given how strong the differences are, lemurs in all likelihood can detect them,” says Drea. “If this phenomenon evolved as an adaptation, it would have to confer a benefit to the pregnant female. In this scenario, the pregnant female may use the information about her own scent as a type of self-referent/phenotype matching mechanism, allowing her own body to act on the information provided by these signals, such as continuing to invest in a fetus or to disinvest.”

For Drea’s lab, the latest study was a logical next step in their work; they’ve been studying lemur olfactory communication for quite some time. “The main challenge when working with mammalian odors is that it is very difficult to identify the exact compounds that are responsible for signaling [...] given that each secretion contains hundreds of compounds, in varying proportions, it hasn’t yet been possible to show which ones are responsible for the many pieces of information conveyed,” says Drea.

Could the research have implications for other primates? In principle, Drea believes that fetal sex-differentiated patterns in a mother’s scent could well be present more broadly. Certainly as a diagnostic test, the process is labor intensive, so the work is more relevant to those studying animal behavior; olfactory cues may be linked to promoting mother-infant recognition, reducing intragroup conflict, or counteracting behavioral mechanisms of paternity confusion.

Receive content, products, events as well as relevant industry updates from The Analytical Scientist and its sponsors.
Stay up to date with our other newsletters and sponsors information, tailored specifically to the fields you are interested in

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].
If you wish to unsubscribe, you can update your preferences at any point.

  1. J. Crawford and C. Drea, “Baby on Board: Olfactory Cues Indicate Pregnancy and Fetal Sex in a Nonhuman Primate,” Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0831 (2015).
About the Author
"Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ exper
Stephanie Vine

"Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent seven years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read."

Related Application Notes
Fenceline: PTR-TOF real-time air quality monitoring around chemical

| Contributed by IONICON

FUSION PTR-TOF Tastes Chicken Soup

| Contributed by IONICON


| Contributed by IONICON

Related Product Profiles
Higher Peaks – Clearly.

| Contributed by Shimadzu Europa

Compact with countless benefits

| Contributed by Shimadzu Europa

The fine Art of Method Development

| Contributed by Shimadzu Europa

Register to The Analytical Scientist

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:
  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Analytical Scientist magazine