The Age of Biotech

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Genetic Tests for Romantic Compatibility?

Will direct-to-consumer genetic testing reshape dating and romance? Unlikely.

The search for a romantic partner can be extremely challenging, and rewarding. Technologies, such as the Internet, have significantly changed how we go about this. Just look at the writings on online dating here on this site, and imagine the reaction from people just ten years ago to its normalization.

Will direct-to-consumer genetic testing reshape the quest for romantic compatibility? Unlikely, although at least two companies are giving it an effort. 

For only $99, the Swiss company GenePartner offers a test for what it describes as compatibility between potential partners. How can it do this?

The GenePartner project was inspired by a famous study performed by Prof. Dr. Wedekind at the University of Bern in Switzerland. In this study, Prof. Dr. Wedekind recruited female volunteers to smell T-shirts worn by men for three consecutive days and rate them for attractiveness. He then analyzed the particular part of DNA that codes for HLA (human leukocyte antigen) molecules and found that women preferred T-shirts from men whose HLA molecules were most different from their own....

In 2003, the GenePartner team decided to take this discovery one step further and see if there are specific patterns of HLA genes that "attract" each other more. In collaboration with the Swiss Institute for Behavioural Genetics, we tested a large number of individuals (both romantically involved couples and persons not in a relationship) for their HLA genes. The results were astounding and led to the development of a formula that combines the diversity factor studied by Prof. Dr. Wedekind, together with several other evolutionary factors researched and developed by the Swiss Institute for Behavioral Genetics.

Despite its credible-sounding name, the Swiss Institute is "affiliated" with GenePartner, appears to be the project of one of the company's two staff members, and has as its only project this compatibility research.

Of course, matchmakers--including those who claim to be endowed with special skills--have one of the oldest careers. And some will use new language to make old claims.

Nevertheless, one match appears to be very compatible: This type of service with superficial news coverage. GenePartner has received coverage from Time, the Washington Post, Wired online, Technology Review, The Times (UK), and Good Morning America (below). A similar company, ScientificMatch, that provides even less evidence for its work, has been profiled by the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, The Scientist, and Fox News.

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Adapted from a post on Biopolitical Times, the blog of the Center for Genetics and Society.

Jesse Reynolds is a former researcher for the Center for Genetics and Society.

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