Welcome to the Genomics Forum blog

Based at The University of Edinburgh, the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum is part of the ESRC Genomics Network and pioneers new ways to promote and communicate social research on the contemporary life sciences.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Week Three - Genetic Dating

by Cameron Duguid - Documentary Filmmaker in Residence

Having been intrigued in my first week by the mention of ‘the genetics of scent and attraction’, I must admit, I did kind of brush it off as a novelty subject. However, after a conversation with visiting fellow Craig Roberts, this intrigue quickly developed into serious consideration and my new found interest in genetic dating sites was sparked. The actual implications of this genomic information being used by dating agencies became apparent, and so many questions sprung to mind.

What happens if you are already in a relationship, and, through fateful curiosity, decide to check whether you are compatible with regards to making immune resilient babies? What if the test turns up any other potential hereditary genetic issues? If MHC compatibility is AOK, but the chance of a different genetic disorder are high- what moral obligation do companies dealing with genetic information have to inform of other findings? Or is it only the MHC genes which are assessed? If so how is the testing of individual genes regulated and how are the results stored?...

After reading The Economist’s article from 2008 A new kind of dating agency relies on matching people by their body odour, I was curious to see that scientificmatch.com (temporarily unavailable) was a quick search didn’t shed any light as to the reasons for its absence, however it did lead me to a bundle of dating sites, including chemistry.com, with a detailed ‘personality test’ and a much more traditional take on the ‘chemistry’ of attraction. Many sites appear to use the chemical/scientific theme as a marketing tool, not so many it would seem actually offer gene compatibility testing.

One site offering a swabbing service- gene partner- comes with an ABC news feature/advertisement on their homepage in which two human guinea pigs are coupled up and light-heartedly questioned.

In the first 5 seconds the use of the term ‘hard science’ was used, but just how hard is the science?

Other memorable quotes include:

  • ‘DNA won’t help you woo your lover, but it will help narrow the field’ 
  • ’its an interesting concept, and it makes you feel… wow, we’re compatible based on DNA, there’s gotta be some real science to that’
Does this highlight the power of and susceptibility to the use of scientific jargon, and even the power of just the word –science- as a marketing tool. I seem to see the double helix incorporated into so many logos, on so many websites, and now my instinctive reaction is to be pretty sceptical as to what those sites contain. Complex but simple, such a beautiful structure, but what influence does it hold in tainting the way the text is read? geneticdating.co.uk (an offshoot of The Dating Group) even goes as far as to display a helix and ‘genetic’ in the title, yet seems to be purely personality based.

The Gene Partner news piece talks of ‘isolating the compatibility gene’ obviously conflicting with the website’s more informed scientific outlines. The site also doesn’t seem to explicitly use the MHC/immunity aspect as a marketing tool, although it is the key part to the science section. Is this to cover more bases and align with the conventional idea of compatibility and symmetry, and not to be confused with the idea of contrasting and complimentary genes being beneficial?

With the intricacies of the genome, and the complex interplay of genes and regulators, epigenetics, and not accounting for the many other mysterious factors that go in to choosing a partner. Is the science relating to MHC genes and compatibility advanced enough for it to be used as a part of a system for choosing a partner? I think, romantically, I’d rather steer away from any sort of system and stick with good old ‘chemistry’!


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