Love In Your Genes (CS10)
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Love In Your Genes (CS10)


This week on Cracked Science: Would you break
up with your significant other if a DNA test told you you weren’t compatible? Hey, this is Jonathan Jarry and you’re watching
Cracked Science, the show from the McGill Office for Science and Society that separates
sense from nonsense on the scientific stage. As Valentine’s Day approaches, you may be
asking yourself, “Is he or she *the one*?” And hopefully, as you’re asking this question,
you are sitting next to your partner and not watching a random person from afar through
a pair of binoculars. For some people, the answer to this question
can be found in Tarot cards (because what says “eternal bliss” better than the Ten of
Pentacles). For others, it’s in your DNA In 2018, it’s very easy to blind with science. Words like “DNA”, “stem cells” and “quantum”
are very shiny to the public and they lend credibility to products that aren’t even scientific. So, let’s pull back the curtain on DNA compatibility
testing, using Canadian company Instant Chemistry as our model. How it works is very straightforward. For 150 US dollars (or approximately 185 Canadian
dollars), you will receive two spit collection kits, one for you, one for your partner. You collect your spit and send it back to
the company. They will extract your DNA and your partner’s
DNA from your saliva samples, look at specific parts of your genomes and compare them. This is just like 23andMe, except that it
targets different genes. For example, they will look at your HLA genes
and send you a report that looks like this HLA genes play a role in your immune system. They help your body differentiate between
you and things, like viruses, that aren’t you, a little bit like the teacher who writes
her name on all of her pencils to make sure no one steals them. I remember you, Mrs. VandenBroeke. I remember you. In the report you get from Instant Chemistry,
you will read this: “Scientific research has shown that men and women are more sexually
attracted to partners with HLA genes dissimilar to their own. The reasoning is that this couple would produce
children with a more diverse and stronger immune system.” As the co-founder of Instant Chemistry explained
to FOX and Friends, this is based on the famous smelly T-shirt study, in which female volunteers
were asked to smell T-shirts that had been worn by male volunteers. The problem is two-fold. First, the science. The smelly T-shirt study he quotes found something
else. Women who were on the pill when smelling men’s
T-shirts actually had the opposite reaction: they preferred men who had similar HLA genes
to their own. Over time, other studies were done on this
phenomenon, and the results are all over the place. There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus
on how smelling someone’s HLA profile from their sweat affects mating choices. And the second problem is one of logic. If you *can* determine biocompatibility by
smelling your partner’s clothes, why oh why would you spend nearly 200$ to be told what
your nose can find out for free?? And if you’re congested, you do know that
decongestants are much cheaper than Instant Chemistry, right? To be fair, the counter-argument is that Instant
Chemistry was also aimed at single people. If you’re still wrapping your head around
online dating, wait until you hear about DNA dating. Instant Chemistry used to have a partnership
with SingldOut, that would use your DNA profile to match you up with an eligible date. SingldOut is apparently no more, but companies
like DNA Romance and Pheramor have picked up the slack. Now, Instant Chemistry does not stop at HLA
genes. They also look at brain chemistry. I’m sorry, this sounds really familiar…. *Gasp* But what if you’re… Divergent?! But seriously, looking at that Instant Chemistry
report, I can’t help but think about Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless. And just like Kirkus Reviews called that “a
preposterous premise”, the idea that major personality traits are determined by a G or
an A in the DNA code of one gene is incredibly silly. In fact, it seems to be a return to the wave
of “genetic destiny” covers that graced magazines in the 90s, when we were sequencing the human
genome. Nowadays, the media tends to be more nuanced
in reporting these stories, because you are not your genes. Your environment plays a significant part
in who you become. Instant Chemistry has said that the results
from their kit shouldn’t be used to decide whether or not to break up, but rather to
highlight aspects of your relationship you need to work on. But if your biological compatibility, like
with the HLA genes, is way down, what can you do if you want children? And this may sound silly, but look at how
absurd this was portrayed on ABC News. “But” what? So much of the marketing and media appearances
related to this product circle around this nail-biting suspense over whether or not you
are meant to be together. And as I’ve demonstrated, the science simply
isn’t there. If you want to know what makes or breaks a
couple, let’s look at what has been reported in the psychology literature. Some of the top reasons for divorce, for example,
are: Infidelity, too much conflict, a lack of commitment, growing apart, substance abuse,
and incompatible values and lifestyles And I don’t think Instant Chemistry or any
other company can look at your genes and predict with complete accuracy whether or not you
will cheat on your spouse. Using DNA to determine your compatibility
with your spouse is a bit like feeling their skull to look for the “secretiveness” bump. I find it hard to place this kind of science
hype much above the discredited theory of phrenology. I think James Sherlock put it best when he
wrote about Instant Chemistry for Gizmodo:”Choice of relationship partner is an immensely complex
ballet of biology, culture and circumstance; genes are just one part of the story.” If you are worried about your couple, you
would be better off spending the money on a great night out… or maybe on a couples’
therapist. If everything Instant Chemistry says about
putting people into neat boxes, testing for compatibility, and reassuring you that it’s
just meant to help you work on your relationship, if all of this sounds familiar, it’s because
we’ve heard it all before My recommendation this week is a long read
but one well worth it. It’s an investigation by the Globe and Mail
entitled, “Cracks in the code: Why mapping your DNA may be less reliable than you think”. Carolyn Abraham covers the latest results
from Canada’s Personal Genome Project, which revealed that we may know less than we thought
we knew about the impact of mutations on human health. I think the following quote sums it up nicely,
“In the genomic era, people keen to dip into their DNA should be comfortable curling up
with ambiguity.” Genes aren’t destiny: read this article to
find out why. This video series is one small part of what
our office does, so go to mcgill.ca/oss/ to see what else we do to help separate sense
from nonsense and do subscribe to our newsletter. You can follow me on Twitter at cracked science
and join us next time for science that may or may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

6 thoughts on “Love In Your Genes (CS10)

  1. I really enjoy these videos as well, and also hope they thrive. I also enjoy the food chemistry videos from Joe Schwarcz (Hint: Sharing the videos will help them thrive)

  2. Great video, well thought out and agreed genes can't explain 100% of a good of the bad relationship. I also have doubts about the predictability of personality traits based on DNA alone. However, having good 1) chemistry, as well as attraction to their 2) personality and 3) their appearance is a big aspect of a successful relationship.

  3. DNA matchmaking makes more sense than giving couples anxiety, check out DNA Romance https://dnaromance.com where 1) chemistry is forecasted from the DNA, 2) personality compatibility is based on traditional psychology, and 3) you also see their photo. Matchmaking based on three forms of attraction is better than one or two

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