Can love be genetic? Science explains what’s wrong with Netflix

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What if you could find your one true love through advanced DNA matching technology?

Script researcher-turned-business mogul Rebecca Webb’s dream in Netflix’s sci-fi romantic thriller The one, which tells the story of a dating company called MatchDNA that uses genetics to help clients find their soul mates. The fictitious technology is based on how ants find their community through a pre-established biological link, which Webb says can be replicated in humans to find your genetic soul mate.

The science behind The one is fictional – not much is known about the element of choice involved in breeding ants – and the series does little to explore the ethical puzzles of a genetically predefined happy forever. Still, it’s an enticing fantasy that researchers around the world have long been trying to solve. While some scientists believe that genes can and should be used to match people, others think this is just poorly documented wishful thinking. One thing both parties agree on: they still don’t have a definitive answer.

The genetics of love

Timothy Sexton, CEO of DNA Romance Dating App, Tells Reverse the One is not so far from the service it already offers.

“I guess I was happy that The one came out and it underscored the fact that DNA-based dating was a real thing, ”Sexton says.

DNA Romance uses “information hidden in your DNA to predict ‘romantic chemistry’ between people online.” Users provide their DNA profile either by uploading data from other DNA services (like 23andme and Ancestry.com) or by sending a cheek swab directly to the lab. They also complete a series of Meyers Briggs personality quizzes before being matched with a group of potential lovers.

Our DNA is teeming with data (3.2 billion nucleotides grouped together in 23 pairs of chromosomes, to be exact), but Sexton’s company claims to have isolated the specific details that determine if you’re a good romantic partner.

“Your DNA file is huge,” he says, “but what we’re looking at are a hundred different DNA markers.”

Specifically, DNA Romance examines the four bases of DNA (As, Ts, Gs, and Cs) in 100 locations on chromosome six. But you are not looking for direct mirror images. After all, as the saying goes, opposites attract.

“A good match is that I have the letter A, you have the letter T; I have the letter C, you have the letter G… so you have different letters in the same places, ”says Sexton. “If we have the same letters in the same places, then there’s a good chance we’re probably not having such a good game.”

“Everything is one little shit, to be honest.”

The whole effort is primarily based on research spurred by the so-called “sweaty t-shirt experiments” in Switzerland in the 1990s conducted by evolutionary biologist Claus Wedekind. The experiment – itself based on a study in mice from the 1970s – asked male college students to wear the same t-shirt for several days, then asked women to rate the clothes based on it. of their attraction after feeling them.

The results suggested that women tended to choose men’s scent T-shirts that were the most different for certain DNA markers on chromosome six. These same markers encode the major histocompatibility complex (proteins used in the immune system). MHCs are, according to the researchers, possibly detected by odor. These are what pop culture mistakenly calls “pheromones”. Real pheromones are used by animals, not humans, in mate selection.

While there has been some controversy over the Swiss experience (we’ll get to that a bit later), Sexton points out that other independent studies support his findings. This includes a 2006 study from the University of New Mexico, one conducted in 2016 in Germany, another from 2018 specifically examining the MHC-based attraction among Asian American speed daters at the University of California, and another doing the same between 58 South Brazilians. students.

“The fact that the same observations and experiences can be compared in different spaces, and in birds, in salmon, in lemurs, in horses… that says a lot to me,” says Sexton. “I’m not saying it’s all about chemistry; chemistry is just a small component. But it makes perfect sense that we are programmed to have chemistry with someone who is genetically different from us.

Moreover, the genetics of love may not depend solely on CMHs.

According to Bianca Acevedo, neuroscientist at UC Santa Barbara, several personal traits for partnerships can be defined by genes. Certain genes are responsible for how the brain receives the hormone vasopressin, which plays a role in altruism, empathy, and emotional responsiveness. According to Acevedo’s research, it also influences sexual satisfaction, frequency of sexual activity, and greater romantic engagement. Other genes are responsible for how the brain receives the hormones oxytocin and dopamine, which correspond to loving behavior, novelty seeking, and the desire for a greater variety of sexual behaviors.

In other words, “genetics play a role in how much people’s brains react to their partner,” says Acevedo.

His team is among the first to examine this in depth. The perfect soul mate match at the The one is “too much of a stretch,” says Acevedo, but given a person’s genetic makeup, there is a group of people they are more likely to be drawn to.

“The genes stay the same, but they are turned on and off by different things, and certain environments will trigger certain responses,” she says. “Just as people can have a genetic predisposition to diabetes but maybe only trigger it based on their lifestyle, it’s probably the same with love.”

The myth of pheromones

Dimitri Leonidas and Hannah Ware in The one.Netflix

Not all researchers are keen on playing Cupid with people’s propellers. This includes Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, specializing in the history of reproduction.

“The idea that humans base their choice of mate on genetic similarity or dissimilarity seems to be absurd and run counter to everyday experience,” Cobb explains. “It’s just a little shit, to be honest.”

Allison Lopatkin, assistant professor of biological sciences at Barnard College at Columbia University, agrees.

“One of the most remarkable things is that we find people from all attractive kind. “

“While there may very well be underlying relationships between our genetics and the compatibility of our mates, the reality is that we don’t have enough data to understand what they are, and we probably won’t. not for a while, ”she said. “It is at best misleading and at worst dangerous to present our understanding of human-human interactions at the genetic level as anything but fragile.”

Part of the scientific community primarily contests the genesis of the sweaty t-shirt theory. Tristram Wyatt, professor of zoology at the University of Oxford who has written extensively on how companies created a myth about human pheromones, quickly points out the multiple flaws in the experiment.

“Over the years, when people have tried to repeat the experience, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and the numbers are very small,” he says. “The bottom to the bottom is, no it’s not possible, but it’s a really interesting idea.”

Not everyone is a fan of genetic pairing in The one.Netflix

According to Wyatt, apps like the fictitious MatchDNA are “some kind of gimmick” and with little scientific backing.

“One of the most remarkable things about humans is that we find people of all kinds attractive,” he says, “and we are still able to have children, which suggests that we are extremely compatible in the process. whole world.”

This doesn’t mean that genetics and science, in general, can’t help us find compatible romantic partners, but services like Netflix’s fictional MatchDNA ignore crucial factors like life experience or the simple fact that tastes and preferences change, sometimes overnight.

Whether “one” exists or not is up for debate for another time. According to science, the chances that your soul mate’s identity is hidden uniquely in your DNA are thin, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking for.

FUTURE LOVE IS A SERIES ABOUT HOW ADVANCES IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND CULTURE ARE CHANGING LOVE, GENDER AND MEETINGS.


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