Forget mistletoe - what about DNA?
A new dating service matches singles using major histocompatibility complex genes
A new dating service
that launched this week for Boston-area singles claims that it can get the chemistry right when fixing up potential mates -- literally. ScientificMatch.com
uses DNA samples from customers to match them with others who have different alleles for major histocompatibility complex
MHC proteins sit on the surface of cells and detect pathogens, but they also appear to play a role in sexual attraction. In sniff tests of dirty t-shirts, people tend to be most attracted to the scent of the shirt whose owner has different MHC alleles from the sniffer. One explanation is that this phenomenon evolved to promote genetic diversity between mates.
For $1,995 and a cheek swab sent off for DNA analysis, customers can find the love of their lives, or so says Eric Holzle, a Massachusetts engineer and long-time dater. Kerry Grens spoke to him on December 11, the day the site went live. At the time, he was driving, and didn't know if anyone had signed up.
KG: What is the algorithm for matching up customers?
EH: We look at 6 alleles, 3 genes. They are all HLA [human leukocyte antigen
] genes: HLA-A, HLA-B and the third is HLA-DRB1. The reason we look at those genes is because they have the highest degree of polymorphism and those are ones scientists speculate influence our body odor. We match for the most amount of difference... None of those polymorphisms should be common between them.
KG: What are the chances of finding someone with 100 percent different polymorphisms?
EH: We need to collect research as people sign up. According to some data we've seen, based on DNA chemistry, we expect somewhere around 20-30 percent of the population to be compatible with each other. But we don't just match for chemistry, but personality and personal preferences, like the distance from where you live and age range. Once you include those criteria you're whittling down significantly who person A will be compatible with.
KG: What got you interested in and familiar with this science?
EH: I was basically destitute and living in one of my parent's houses. I had finished a couple of failed projects, and I knew I wanted to do something with the internet. I've been single my whole like and have been a dater. I was watching TV one night and they did a documentary on how people find the odor of other people attractive when their HLA genes are different. I thought, this is a fantastic idea to base a dating Web site on. With the more research I've done, the more benefits I've found to matching HLA genes. They go well beyond matching odor and scent.
KG: What are some of those additional benefits?
EH: I list 6 on my website, the first is natural body odor. Number 2 is a more satisfying sex life. Number 3, if you're a woman and matched up with a proper HLA partner, you have a higher rate of orgasms. That came out in a University of New Mexico report
in 2006. It's interesting because it leads into another benefit, which is there's less cheating when people are properly matched up.
KG: Are you aware of studies that looked at HLA genes and divorce rate or happiness?
EH: No. On those particular points, only the one study at the University of Mexico was done on humans.
KG: You said you're a single dater, will you also be a member of ScientificMatch.com?
EH: Absolutely. No question at all. I want to find chemistry!
Links within this article:
K. Grens, "Darwin hits dating," The Scientist
, June 28, 2007.
N. Atkinson, "Match 'n' sniff: The MHC T-shirt conundrum," The Scientist
, September, 2006.
G. Dutton, "What we can learn from the elite controllers," The Scientist
, November, 2006
Garver-Apcar C.E. et al., "Major histocompatibility complex alleles, sexual responsivity, and unfaithfulness in romantic couples," Psychol Sci
, 17:830-5, 2006.