Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Thursday, 17 April 2008 17:15 UK

Mice can 'sniff out' their mate

Scientists believe similar signals are likely to be present in other species

Female mice can "sniff out" the best breeding partner and avoid mating with inbred males, new research claims.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool found that mice avoid mating with inbred males which have a smaller array of protein in their urine.

This protein has a distinctive odour and researchers think the females are able to find the mate with the greatest genetic diversity after smelling it.

Scientists say it raises questions as to whether the same is true for humans.

Similar distinctions

So far the protein has only been discovered in rodents but scientists believe that similar signals are likely to be present in other vertebrates.

Dr Michael Thom, from the University's Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group, said: "Inbreeding is often avoided in animals because it can lead to health problems in offspring, but despite this inbreeding can sometimes still occur.

"Why female mice would want to avoid inbred males is still uncertain, however, but it is interesting that it is certainly something of importance to them.

"The work raises the question, if this is important in mice, are there mechanisms in place to help others animals and humans make similar distinctions between outbred and inbred males?"

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