Those Are Some Sexy Genes You’re Wearing…
We’re creatures of the physical as well as the mental and emotional, and so it’s not surprising that we are hard-wired to find certain qualities attractive based on their implications for passing along our genes. We’ve talked about this at some length in our book. We know that men are drawn to a certain hip-to-waist ratio and to glossy hair because both suggest that a woman is healthy and fertile. We know that women tend to be drawn to size in a man as well as maturity and material wealth because both suggest the ability to protect and nurture offspring. We might not love the idea that our perception of beauty hinges on ancient evolutionary imperatives, and that’s not what we’re suggesting; there is clearly much more to attraction and romance. But initial, visceral attraction is clearly fueled by primal instincts. We’re not really all that far from the veldt and the savannah, after all.
But when matchmaking takes its first tentative steps into basing the art of the hookup on the science of evolutionary biology, some folks get uneasy. We find it fascinating, because anything that casts new light on why we find some people magnetic and irresistible…well, it’s our raison d’etre. In the latest issue of Time, we found a story about a Swiss company called GenePartner that uses genetic matching to help people find that partner who makes their heart go pitter-pat.
The company partners with several matchmaking websites to test the DNA of applicants and matches people based on their genes for creating HLA, or human leukocyte antigens, a key component of the immune system. The idea was sparked by the famous 1995 experiment in which women who were not taking birth control pills (and so were experiencing their normal hormonal levels) preferred the scent of men who had certain genes that were different from their own. Based on the notion that “opposites attract” has a genetic component, GenePartner thinks that people will be attracted to others with different HLA genes than their own, because the couple’s children stand to inherit a more robust immune system and therefore be more resistant to disease. It’s that survival of the fittest thing again.
The company has developed a computer algorithm that matches the lovelorn with ideal potential mates based on HLA profile. This concept is hardly demonstrated conclusively, but it’s certainly interesting. From a scientific perspective, it may not explain attraction but it could certainly shed some light on why some parents have better luck with healthy offspring while others seem to have nothing but health disasters. What about HLA screening to predict the chances of immune disorders like lupus and multiple sclerosis? Dating is peachy, but that seems more important to us.
If nothing else, this technology could save a lot of people the time and trouble of filling out a long questionnaire or writing up a charming profile while trying to locate that one photo where they’re not making a funny face. Just pony up your $99, get your kit, swab your cheek for a tissue sample, mail it to Switzerland and get your very own GenePartner ID. Sweaty t-shirt not included.
Debi & Eva