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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, January 21, 2022

Decoding L-O-V-E

Create online profile? Check. Upload photo? Check. Fill out personality questionnaire? Check. Mail in cheek swab sample? Huh?

Now finding Mr. or Mrs. Right is just a click of the mouse and a swipe of the mouth away. At least that's what new dating web sites are saying.

Online dating services, such as GenePartner.com and ScientificMatch.com, are using people's DNA to find their clients a perfect biological match.

The sites say that this perfect match will guarantee the best chemistry, quite literally. According to ScientificMatch.com, the more genetically compatible two people are, the less likely they will be to cheat on each other, the better their sex lives will be and the easier it will be for the woman to orgasm.

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Sex educator and relationship expert Dr. Yvonne Fulbright said these sites are addressing a topic that has long been avoided in discussions on relationships. ""People want a hot and heavy sex life with someone ... which there is more emphasis on now. It is definitely an important component [of a relationship].""

Moreover, she said these sites ""make sense as far as evolutionary biology and reproductive purposes,"" because they are pairing people together who are more likely to remain monogamous and have a higher fertility rate.

When the Stars and Alleles Align

The process is fairly simple. Participants are asked to use a cotton swab from a DNA collection kit and dab the inside of their cheek, send it back to the company and wait for the results. The sites then analyze the genetic information of their client, and determine the level of genetic compatibility with a potential partner.

GenePartner.com and ScientificMatch.com currently state two people are perfectly compatible when specific immune system cells, known as human leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecules, are different from each other.

Peter Leeds, a senior lecturer in the genetics department at UW-Madison explained that all humans have two copies of a gene—one paternal allele and one maternal allele. Each pair of alleles makes up a gene. There are three different HLA genes, totaling six alleles.

In a 2009 Women's Health article titled ""Find Your Perfect Match,"" the author writes that these three genes vary more between people than any other in the human genome.

Leeds suggested this is because they're involved in the immune system.

""We can't be sure, but we assume it has something to do, in an evolutionary sense, with ... parasites and diseases people are exposed to,"" he said. ""So certain versions of these genes may produce a better response against harmful substances.""

GenePartner.com explains that a greater variety in HLA alleles between two people offers a greater variety in the possible immune reactions. Thus, the offspring of couples with more variation will have better protection from diseases because their body has more weapons to use in its defense, according to the site.

However, Dr. Leeds is skeptical. He says although this is a probable conclusion, it has never been scientifically proven.

""What this seems to me,"" he said, ""is [the companies] take some science that is reasonably good science and goes up to a certain point, and then [they] make this enormous point that's totally unjustified.""

Sex Sells

Yet dating sites like these are becoming increasingly popular. Within the last two years, this trend has generated much publicity and intrigue.

UW-Madison sophomore Stephanie Phillips is familiar with dating services. She recently created an account on eHarmony.com, a match-making site that has over 20 million users. Although it doesn't use DNA in it's selection process, eHarmony.com has a detailed system that is based on ""29 dimensions of compatibility.""

Yet Phillips said the men she was recommended seemed to be completely random in interests and personality. ""They combine you on a number of levels,"" she said. ""And they give you so many options. There's a lot of hit or miss in there.""

But Phillips says she would be open to testing her DNA someday. ""If matching someone on a dating site could completely eliminate [biological turn-offs],"" she said, ""it just seems like then there's little room for error [in finding the right person],"" she said. ""Biological stuff—that's not something you can just theorize.""

Leeds points out that Phillips is falling into the trap that scientific data often creates.

""[The concept] is based on science. And the science is correct,"" he said. ""And it's too confusing, really, for people to understand. So [the companies] can present this and say there's science behind it in all honesty and charge $2000, when in fact, there's absolutely no evidence out there that you will be in a better relationship because of [DNA results].""

He believes this trend is more of a reflection on the way business works, than it is of helping people find love. ""It's just brilliant,"" he said, before clarifying only because it's a clever way to make money.

One Sweaty T-Shirt Please

So how exactly did this ""brilliant"" plan come about? According ""Find Your Perfect Match,"" the answer lies in the famous sweaty T-shirt experiment designed by Claus Wedekind in 1994.

The article explained that a group of men were asked to wear the same shirt for two days while they worked out, ate and slept. After the two-day period, a group of women were told to smell the shirts and rate each one based on a number of criteria. The study found that women were more aroused by the scent of T-shirts belonging to men with a different major histocompatibility complex (MHC)—the genes that encode products that are a part of our immune system to help recognize foreign proteins, Leeds said.

This result created the basis for the idea that if zero of the six HLA alleles match, two people will be genetically compatible.

Dr. Fulbright agrees that pheromones, the body's natural chemical secretions, can be incredibly influential in who people are attracted to.

""Smell [can be] the biggest aphrodisiac,"" she said. ""It's one of those things we aren't told about. I think a lot of people are not aware of how powerful it is.""

Love Conquers All

But some people are convinced the social aspects in life, such as values, hobbies and sense of humor are what ultimately fuel the fire for a fulfilling relationship.

UW-Madison senior Robin Schroll, who is majoring in genetics, said the concept of coding for love is ""laughable.""

""People are going to make impressions based on the person and not the DNA,"" she said.

Schroll argues that a person's genetic profile cannot determine the happiness and success of a relationship. And she dismisses the idea that a woman will feel more pleasure if she is 100 percent biologically compatible with her partner.

""It's about whether you feel comfortable [enough] around that person to be aroused by them and if they are touching you in the right places,"" she said.

""You're genetically identical to yourself, and most people don't have any problem arousing themselves.""

Phillips agreed that emotional compatibility often translates into physical compatibility.

""I just feel like if you're compatible in interests, the sex life just comes with it,"" she said.

Dr. Fulbright said this is a common misconception that does not reflect reality.

""People are thrown for a loop,"" she said. ""If you've found the one, then [you hear] that's all you'll ever need.""

But she said this isn't the case because compatibility comes down to so many conflicting factors.

""Two people's sexual education or experiences could differ,""she said. ""They may have different values about what eroticism is hot.""

Dr. Fulbright applauded the site for making sexual enjoyment a priority in a good relationship.

""It can be a major issue that drives us apart,"" she said. ""We're so much more forgiving for couples that separate for other issues ... but if the sex isn't all that, that could be important to someone and needs to respected.""

For Better or For Worse

So what—if any—is the final verdict on online dating sites using people's DNA to find them a soul mate? It seems the opinions are just as varied as the different combinations of alleles.

""These services fill a gap,"" Dr. Fulbright said. ""But ideally they need to look at everything collectively.""

ScientificMatch.com has already included a character questionnaire among its features and GenePartner.com has paired with social networking sites like Facebook to balance the biological and emotional factors of a relationship.

Yet Leeds said, ""If you wanted to approach [match making] scientifically, you would have to ask what are we looking for in a good relationship. Theoretically then you could do something like this that would have meaning ... which would mean finding people who do report having good relationships and look to their genomes and establish some sort of correlation.""

But he emphasized even then many people may have difficulty defining what a good relationship is.

Dr. Fulbright said, ""If it's going to make them happy, and encourage people ... to find out what are deal breakers and what are good [qualities]"" then these sites should be seen as just another option for people.

Among all the different options for finding love, one thing is for certain: While love may be blind, it sure has a keen sense of smell.

 

 

 

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