dna dating

A recent start-up, Yoke.me, is attempting to build a better dating engine using Big Data and algorithms.  But what mix of data could best be used to algorithmically identify an optimal mate?  Photos, favorite albums, and religious beliefs are a start.

But how about DNA?

A couple of years ago at SciFoo, Toby Segaran, Meredith Carpenter, and I brainstormed about creating a start-up that would do just this.  We dubbed it GeneHarmony.

Here’s how it would work: to become a member, you submit a saliva sample to our genomics facility, which sequences all of your genetic quirks (since most of us share DNA which is 99.6% similar, we need only sequence the differences).

Once sequenced, your genome would be scanned against all other members, with a focus on genes that are known to be predictive of mate compatibility, and return a rank-ordered list of potential dates.

The principal of “opposites attract” is mirrored at the DNA level. Studies show that individuals who are genetically dissimilar are significantly more likely to marry (the inverse of “why you shouldn’t marry your cousin.”)

So much of mating is an elaborate system to uncover genetic signals. Many factors which are considered attractive – facial symmetry, body shape, intelligence, body odor – are ways in which humans tell suitors “I have good genes.”  DNA dating could cut through these perceptual inefficiencies and get right to the genetic point.

Even better, members’ experiences could be tracked and fed back into the genetic database to create better dating models.  One could even tune the parameters depending on the kind of relationship sought: are you a 22 year-old thrill-seeker looking for fun, or an aging bachelor seeking marriage and stability?

Of course, the privacy issues raised by such a service are massive. What if the site was used to settle a paternity lawsuit?  Or used to target advertisements?  Facebook’s privacy issues appear trivial by comparison.

And yet, for most of us, selecting a partner is the most consequential decision of our lives.  Why shouldn’t we leverage all of the science and technology we have to improve that choice?

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