What is "Major Histocompatibility Complex" (MHC)?

Jeffrey Kluger, Science Journalist and Author, explains what Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) is and how it affects people's choice of a possible mate
Major Histocompatibility Complex
KidsInTheHouse the Ultimate Parenting Resource
Kids in the House Tour

What is "Major Histocompatibility Complex" (MHC)?

The Major Histocompatibility Complex, which is also conveniently called MHC, is an area on the genome that produces scent proteins that all human beings use to detect a possible mate. What you're looking for is a scent that is similar enough to be attractive; but dissimilar enough that if you and that potential mate produce babies, you're not going to mingle recessive genes. We learn how to smell that in another partner, subconsciously. We also learn to taste the MHC when we kiss. So in some cases, kissing is quite literally, a taste test. So when someone says, "I went out with this person and he or she seemed really nice, but there was no chemistry." They mean that literally. There was no chemistry. The good thing about MHC is this is one of the things that makes incest between siblings much less likely or all family members. The MHC is very similar between you and your opposite sex sibling. That's one of the reasons the incest taboo was developed because, not only is it societally prescribed, you also feel no attraction at all for the opposite sex sibling. You'll often find that when somebody's big brother is a knock out or big sister is incredibly hot, a same sex friend will say, "How do you not find her sexy?" or "How do you not find him sexy?" The sibling will really not see it. "I don't know. Kids at school think she's gorgeous, but I've never seen it." It's a very natural, highly evolutionarily important step in keeping genes segregated.

Jeffrey Kluger, Science Journalist and Author, explains what Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) is and how it affects people's choice of a possible mate


Expert Bio

More from Expert

Jeffrey Kluger

Science Journalist & Author

Jeffrey Kluger is a senior editor and writer at Time magazine, covering science, health and other fields. He is the coauthor, along with astronaut Jim Lovell, of Apollo 13, the book that served as the basis of the 1995 movie. His more-recent release, Splendid Solution, told the story of Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine.  His novel, Nacky Patcher and the Curse of the Dry-Land Boats, was published in June 2007, and his newest nonfiction book, Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex, was published in June 2008.

Before coming to Time, Kluger worked for Discover magazine, where he was a senior editor and humor columnist. Prior to that, he was health editor at Family Circle magazine, story editor at The New York Times Business World Magazine, and Associate Editor at Science Digest magazine. His features and columns have appeared in dozens of publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Gentlemen's Quarterly, The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Omni, McCall's, New York Magazine, The New York Post, Newsday, and, of course, Time. He has worked as an adjunct instructor in the graduate journalism program at New York University; is a licensed—though non-practicing—attorney; and is a graduate of the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore School of Law. He lives in New York City with his wife Alejandra and their daughters, Elisa and Paloma.

More Parenting Videos from Jeffrey Kluger >
Enter your email to
download & subscribe
to our newsletter