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Sexual Attraction Is Shaped by Gut Bacteria, Infectious Diseases, and Parasites | Kathleen McAuliffe

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Sexual Attraction Is Shaped by Gut Bacteria, Infectious Diseases, and Parasites
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Behind our sexual impulses — who we feel attracted to and why — complex biological interactions help determine our feelings, our obsessions, our repulsions... Our general attraction to people with clear complexions, for example, results from an instinctual aversion to bacteria (which cause pimples and pockmarks). Science journalist Kathleen McAuliffe explains how many of the mating habits we take for granted are influenced by infectious diseases, parasites in our gut, and our bodily scent (which is actually determined by our immune system).


Kathleen McAuliffe’s articles, many featured on covers, have appeared in over a dozen national magazines, including Discover, The New York Times (both the Sunday Magazine and newspaper), US News & World Report, Smithsonian, Atlantic Monthly, More Magazine, Glamour, and Reader's Digest. In addition to being a feature writer, McAuliffe was a health columnist for More Magazine from 1999-2006. A decade earlier, she founded a quarterly newsletter put out by the American Foundation for AIDS Research, which she edited for the first year of its publication.  From 1985 to 1988, she was a senior editor at US News & World Report, focusing on the coverage of health and science. In the six years previous to this position, she was an editor at Omni Magazine, where she assigned and prepared science articles for publication. During that period, she also co-authored Life for Sale, one of the first popular books about the genetic engineering revolution
Her article, "Are We Evolving?", was featured in The Best American Science Writing 2010, edited by Jerome Groopman. The year before, she was awarded an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship to study and report on human evolution. In 2000, she received an award from the National Coalition of Women With Heart Disease in recognition of excellence in journalism. Twelve years earlier, she was honored with the Institute of Food Technology award for outstanding writing on food science and nutrition. McAuliffe was also awarded a science writing fellowship in 1996 from the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole.

In 2011, McAuliffe was interviewed on the National Public Radio program All Things Considered, which devoted a segment to her article, "The Incredible Shrinking Brain." McAuliffe participated as a panelist on an hour-long PBS seminar, Our Genes/Our Choices, which aired across the US in the winter of 2003. She did script development and on-camera interviews for Omni: The New Frontier, a nationally syndicated TV series that began airing in October 1981. She has also appeared on other TV and radio programs. McAuliffe was educated at Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland, obtaining a M.A. in natural science after graduating with first-class honors. Her final year thesis on electro-encephalography (EEG) recordings of the human brain was presented at the Eastern Psychology Association Conference in 1977. McAuliffe and her husband – a research physicist at the University of Miami – are the parents of two teenagers and reside in Miami, Fl.

Kathleen McAuliffe:  There's a few ways in which infectious disease may impact who we find sexually attractive. So for example, in cultures where infectious disease is highly prevalent people tend to place more emphasis on beauty. So skin free of any kind of pockmarks, and also more symmetrical features. Because what happens is that if you have an infectious disease when you're young it can derail development and that's part of the reason why people's features may be a little bit more asymmetric if they're more vulnerable to infectious disease. There's also evidence that we're more attractive to people whose odors signify that they have very different immune systems from ourselves. And the way it works is this that believe it or not odor correlates with how your immune system functions. And we all vary individually in how susceptible we are to different kinds of infection and basically the research suggests that we're most attracted to people who are most different from us in terms of how their immune system functions.

So if we mate and have children our children are going to have very varied genes and as a result if say a terrible infection is spreading around you might lose one child but you're not going to lose all your children because they're going to have very varied immune systems in...

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