In the science fiction movie Gattaca, people assess potential dates and mates by genetic evaluation. This has now become a reality via a new dating service called Scientific Match (http://www.scientificmatch.com/). The following appears on the site:
“Welcome to a new era of human relationships. We’re the only introduction service that creates matches with actual physical chemistry. Our patent-pending technology uses your DNA to find others with a natural body fragrance you’ll love, with whom you’d have healthier children, a more satisfying sex life, and more. Our personal-values-analysis provides a deep spiritual bond, to complete your path to truly amazing relationships.”
The creator of the site was apparently inspired by the “sweaty T-shirt” study (http://ndt.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/15/9/1269). In this study it was allegedly found that women liked the smell of dirty shirts worn by immunologically men. This is the foundation for the claim about the natural body fragrance.
In accord with these results, the service provides genetic matches as well as the more traditional means (profiles and photos) of match making. Oddly enough, women taking birth control pills are not allowed to use the service-it is claimed that studies show they are (for some reason) attracted to men with similar genes.
Interestingly, the idea of testing for compatibility based on genes does have a certain degree of plausibility. After all, a person’s genes clearly play an extensive role in the person’s traits-most especially the physical traits. It has also been argued that attraction is based on genetics. That is, that a person finds another attractive based on a subconscious assessment of their reproductive compatibility. Put crudely, people are attracted to those they want to mate with. If all this is correct, then it would be possible to match people genetically. Obviously, the matching system would not be perfect-there is more to a person than his or her genetic makeup. Factors such as background, environment and perhaps even non-physical factors (a soul) are also important. However, a genetic match could be a good starting point. It would also be useful in a practical sense-proper genetic testing a matching would reveal the sort of children that the couple would produce. It would be very useful to be able to take a test and find a perfect match. Fortunately for the romantics out there, this sort of laboratory matchmaking will probably not replace the traditional methods…at least for now.
As Gattaca illustrated, the use of genetics in this manner is fraught with moral and practical perils. People have an unfortunate tendency to get caught up in dating trends and often rely on the fad system of the moment (usually whatever dating book happens to be top in sales). Thus, there is the possibility that people might put too much weight on genetic factors and end up being disappointed or missing out on excellent opportunities. In any case, this is yet another chapter in the ongoing debate over what it is that makes a person who he or she is as well as the debate over the nature of love.