The first dating service to use lab-based genetic profiling launched online last week. Scientific Match promises to pair up people who will be physically attracted to each other because their DNA is different.
Well-matched couples will like each others' natural scents, have more fun in bed, and bear healthier children than those who are genetically similar, the company claims.
The service, available only in the Boston area, charges $1,995 for a year-long subscription.
"I strongly believe this will dominate the future of dating services," said founder Eric Holzle, a mechanical engineer.
Members swab their cheeks and send in saliva samples. A lab spends two weeks analyzing the immune system genes, and then the company matches individuals with genetic profiles that are unalike.
"We look at six specific genetic reference points on DNA, and none of those six can match to make a match," Holzle explained.
He was inspired by a well-known "sweaty T-shirt" study of a dozen years ago, in which biologists found that women liked the smell of dirty shirts worn by men who were immunologically dissimilar to themselves.
As with other online dating sites, Scientific Match's users can fill out written profiles and upload photographs. Genetic details are not displayed, except to indicate a match. The service runs criminal background checks to exclude anyone who has committed crimes involving violence or identity theft.
Scientific Match is open to straight and gay people. However, women taking the birth control pill are turned away because some studies show they are more attracted to men with similar immune system genes.
The success or failure of the service can't be measured, however, with only a handful of customers so far. Although Holzle doesn't guarantee finding one's true love, he insists that people paired by Scientific Match will at least smell appealing to each other.
The romantic role played by scent is well-documented in poetry and science. Perfumers even add synthetic versions of pheromones, suspected aphrodisiacs found naturally in the body, to fragrances that include Paris Hilton's eponymous perfume.
But the ability to bottle attraction or to predict it through genetic profiling remains unproven by science.
Scientific Match sounds more like pseudoscience to Dean Hamer, the molecular biologist and author credited with discovering "gay genes."
"That sounds like a complete and utter rip-off that preys on people's lack of knowledge of causation and correlation," he said, adding that people could wrongly write off a potentially great mate due to genetic discrimination. "Why don't they just smell their underarms?"
Nevertheless, entrepreneurs are sure to try to capitalize on advances in genomics and biotechnology to reshape the landscape of high-tech matchmaking. The field is wide open. For instance, nobody has tried to set up couples based upon genes that have been linked to promiscuity or libido strength.
And Googling a date's full genetic code could be on the distant horizon. The cost of sequencing someone's DNA has dropped to the low six figures.
The latest online services to incorporate genetic testing include startup 23andMe, Ancestry.com, and the Genographic Project, which sell swab-and-send testing kits for uncovering the deep roots of a family tree.