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DNA Relationship Prediction Tests
Have you ever heard a very common phrase of someone who just came from a date saying “‘I liked him, he was cute, but we didn’t have any chemistry.’ That’s not magic, that’s science.”
Many genetic tests have arisen claiming to give clear answers to your compatibility with your partner or prospect future love interest. Let’s take a look at some of the companies which offer these tests.
The latest startup in this space is Instant Chemistry, a company built on the premise that your DNA could help you figure out who to love. Instant Chemistry works like so: you and your partner sign up to receive a “relationship kit” containing two saliva receptacles, which you spit into and send back to the company. Instant Chemistry then extracts certain genetic information from the samples and, based on what they term “bio- and neuro-compatibility”, score how compatible you are.
In the process of analysis, first, they look at the genes of your immune system – the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) profile of you and your partner. HLA is what allows us to recognize the self: is this body mine or other? It controls what bacteria grows on and in you, producing your unique odor and taste, leaving you unbothered by your partner’s early-morning scent, their tongue, hair and hollows.
HLA is the best studied of all of Instant Chemistry’s metrics: the others rely on extrapolating psychological profiles from four behavioral genetic variants: your serotonin transporter, oxytocin receptor, dopamine receptor, and a dopamine enzyme. According to them, individual variations of these genes can determine how you communicate and process emotions, and subsequently how you and your partner will grow as a couple over time.
After you take Instant Chemistry’s test, you and your partner will receive a booklet explaining the findings. You’ll learn how likely it is that you and your partner will remain physically attracted to each other over time and you’ll get feedback from the resident good doctors on how to be a better listener.
A Swiss study at the University of Bern called “T-shirt experiment” carried out in the mid-1990s that screened the DNA of male and female volunteers, then asked the women to smell T-shirts that the men had worn for two consecutive nights and rate them for “attractiveness”. The women, it turned out, preferred the smell of men with genes that were different from their own in this HLA section. All the women, that is, except for those on the contraceptive pill, which seems to affect their sense of smell. The study provoked headlines suggesting that women who came off the contraceptive pill might also go off their mates.
Dr Brown, an elfin 32-year-old, has thought a great deal about what she calls the “chemistry of attraction”. “Somebody might not be Brad Pitt-good-looking,” she says, “but there’s just something about them and you can’t put your finger on it. Matchmakers and online dating sites often have people coming back after a first date saying, ‘We had a great time, he’s a great guy, but there’s no spark.’ So I figured that there’s a need to let people know the chemistry before they meet.”
In 2003, Brown started researching her own formula for attraction by looking at these HLA genes. Her research at the Swiss Institute for Behavioural Genetics, from 2003 to 2007, convinced her she was on to something. She believes she has found the attraction formula — based on patterns in the HLA genes — and turned it into a computer program, an algorithm that she is keeping to herself.
Since it launched last autumn, her Zurich-based company, GenePartner, which charges clients $99 for a genetic match, has been covered by, among others, ABC’s Good Morning America, the Discovery Channel and New Scientist.
“We don’t claim to provide the ideal partner based purely on DNA,” Brown says. She adds that people also need to match on a social level — to have similar life goals, ideals and education levels. To make these matches, she has teamed up with more conventional online dating sites.
The company is using HLA typing as a surrogate for scent, claiming that 40% of olfaction comes from the genes. But the existence of human pheromones is still under debate, although they were predicted to exist half a century ago, and many a website will happily sell you some.
Knowing one’s HLA type is not without value, but its hard to say whether one should seek a mate with a different or similar profile. People with different HLA variants may be less likely to pass infections back and forth. But couples with similar variants would be better off if one of them needs a blood transfusion, bone marrow transplant, or part of a liver.
THE SEROTONIN TRANSPORTER
SLC6A4, which encodes a serotonin transporter, is also a logical choice for a dating gene. Like the HLA genes, its variants are associated with several health conditions: sudden infant death syndrome, Alzheimer aggression, depression following emotional trauma, alcoholism, neuroticism, deviant sexual behavior, hypertension and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The SLC6A4 protein recycles the neurotransmitter serotonin to the reuptake stations on presynaptic neurons in the brain. Serotonin is what’s theoretically scarce in some cases of depression (like pheromones, that hasn’t been definitively shown either), and so the transporter provides a target for the “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” like Paxil. It’s also the target of the older tricyclic antidepressants, as well as amphetamines and cocaine.
People can have a short version or a long version of one part of the SLC6A4gene. In one study, people with two short variants self-reported future dissatisfaction with their marriages if they previously reported high or low emotional behavior (whatever that means). Conversely, if people have at least one “long” version of the serotonin transporter gene, then their emotional behavior does not influence their perceived long-term stability of their marriages.
Using genetic testing in mate selection is a decades-old strategy. Dor Yeshorim is a program that originated in the Hasidic Jewish community in New York City. It has tested thousands of young people from all over the world for several “Jewish” genetic diseases since a rabbi who had children with Tay-Sachs disease started the program in 1983. Testing is anonymous, using numerical identifiers, and carriers are not told what they carry – just whom to avoid having children with, if they so choose. Their testimonials are the plummeting incidences of some of these diseases in the tested population.