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Knowing Your Date to a 'T'

November 6, 2008 By:
Diana Aydin, JE Feature
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Finding love isn't always easy. But for users of ScientificMatch.com, a new online dating site, the search for love starts with cotton swabs of DNA.

Unlike sites that filter based on faith or city, this one matches people based on DNA analysis -- in addition to values and preferences -- on the theory that people with different immune system genes will have chemistry.

"The theory is that nature wants us to breed with other people who have different immune systems because it creates babies with a wider variety of immune system genes and, therefore, more robust immune systems -- in other words, healthier babies," the site explains.

ScientificMatch.com debuted in December 2007 and is "only located right now in the Boston/Providence area," according to Eric Holzle, founder and president of the site. Following in the footsteps of science-based matchmaking sites like eHarmony and Chemistry.com, ScientificMatch. com is part of a trend of dating options that aim to offer a more-accurate, scientific way of finding a soul mate.

"Over 50 percent of the singles population at one point or another has gone online, so that's over 50 million people that these guys have" as an audience, said Lisa Clampitt, co-founder and executive director of the Manhattan-based Matchmaking Institute.

Holzle was inspired to create the site after watching a documentary in 2002 about the "sweaty T-shirt" experiment. The experiment had women smell the sweaty T-shirts of men and "rate their degree of attractiveness," Holzle said.

"And what they found was that when the T-shirt wearer and the T-shirt sniffer had very different immune system genes, then the smell of the T-shirt was rated as very sexy or very attractive," he said.

But when both parties "had very similar immune system genes, the smell of the T-shirt was rated to be very unattractive."

Holzle had been a user of online dating sites before and said that ScientificMatch.com is "able to streamline the process significantly."

Cheap it Isn't

While it may be time-saving, as he suggests, it's not cheap to find your genetic soul mate. "I think that people want to find love in a big way and are sort of looking for different themes out there," said Clampitt.

The nearly $2,000 process starts with taking a DNA sample from the cheeks and mailing it out for analysis, which takes about two weeks. While the DNA is being analyzed, members of the site fulfill the other two criteria of the matching process by specifying their values and preferences. ScientificMatch.com also conducts background checks to ensure security.

Once the analysis is complete, members are allowed to see the profiles of those matches whose immune system genes, values and preferences are compatible.

Then the rest is left up to the members. "We filter out a huge portion of the population that [we're] pretty sure you won't have a compatible, long-term relationship with," Holzle said. "But it's still up to the individual ... to figure out who they will be soul mates with."

If a match is successful, the benefits of being genetically matched could include a number of health and relationship benefits. According to the site, "When you share chemistry with someone, you significantly increase your chances of realizing" benefits like increased fertility and less cheating.

Still, chemistry doesn't necessarily determine a successful, long-term relationship, according to Arthur Aron, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook University.

"What most of the evidence suggests is that what leads to a successful relationship has relatively little to do with who your partner is," Aron said. "It has more to do with your communications skills, and you and your partner's mental health. So that's the No. 1 thing.

"But the whole idea of matching, whether it's matching by questionnaires or matching by preferences or matching by DNA, as best as we know, plays only a small role, if any."

Aron also said that studies like the "sweaty T-shirt" experiment show preferences, but do "not show that you smell someone's T-shirt and you're madly in love with them.

"There may be some value in it," Aron said about the site. "But you certainly want to not assume that because you're matched this way, everything's going to be perfect."

Whether or not ScientificMatch.com sees results, Aron sees the site as "an incredible opportunity for science."

"If they've got some good consultants, and they may very well, who are able to follow up with these people and see what develops in their relationships," and the dating pool is in the thousands, "we will have an awful lot of knowledge of how much genetic matching and genes predict about relationship outcomes," said Aron.

Holzle hopes that ScientificMatch.com will also revolutionize the dating and matchmaking industry.

"I think within the next generation or two, DNA is going to be a huge part of our life, where right now it's just sort of in the background a little bit," said Holzle.

"But as [its use] becomes more and more common and as people accept it as being a totally legitimate scientific procedure, I can't imagine that it won't be part of the dating industry."

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