Doesn’t everyone have that one friend or relative who always says “I know someone who will just be perfect for you”? Usually, the claim is based on knowledge of personality and common interests between you and the potential Mr./Mrs. Perfect. However, in the past two decades scientists have suggested a more innate predictor to attractiveness – genetics. More specifically, alleles in the human leukocyte antigens (HLA) genomic region.
In the past, studies have shown that the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) may influence mating choices in animals. But not much studies indicated that MHC may play a role in mate preferences in humans until 1995.
In 1995, the Swiss-born biologist, Claus Wedekind, led the first study that indicated HLA (the MHC in humans) as a predictor for attraction in the “sweaty t-shirt” experiment where female participants ranked the smell of six t-shirts that were worn by six males for two consecutive nights. Wedekind reported that the women preferred the t-shirts worn by individuals who had the most dissimilar alleles to themselves.
Since then, numerous studies have explored the subject commonly known as genetic matchmaking – businesses have sprung based on this very idea. But how legitimate is it to choose your partners based entirely on genetic compatibility?
It Might Not Work the Other Way Around
A recent study expanded the premise of Wedekind et al.’s finding and attempted the experiment on men instead of women. What they found was troubling in that it doesn’t work the other way around – although men were able to rank the odors consistently, their preferences were not associated with HLA dissimilarity.
The results of the study may indicate two possibilities. First, women may have additional biological mechanisms to help determine a suitable partner because arguably, women have a larger stake in finding the right mate. If so, it will not be the first time that scientists found biological differences between males and females. However, if HLA is a significant factor in the choice of mates, shouldn’t its effect be universal? Second, it may be possible that a separate factor which affects HLA and our preferences in body odors is at play.
In sum, genetic matchmaking may be an eye-catching title but whether HLA can determine our choice of partners is still questionable. If someone suggests a potential partner for you based on HLA compatibility, would you say yes? Let us know what you think.