Will you marry me? Maybe. It depends on your DNA

 

Is your partner more likely to have similar DNA to you, or is it true that opposites attract? The first ever study to take the entire genome into account when looking at relationships and genetics, has found that we are more likely to pair off with someone whose genes are similar to our own. Rather than being attracted to our opposite, it appears that birds of a feather tend to flock together, genetically speaking.

The study, soon to be published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and already available online, examined 1.7 million places in the DNA which are known to differ between humans, and compared the overlap between husbands and wives with the rest of the sample. It turned out that spouses have more in common than random matches.

It’s not news that we tend to veer towards those who are similar to us when it comes to romantic relationships. Spouses are likely to have many characteristics in common, including religion, age, race, income, body type and education. We sense intuitively that this is true when we look at the couples around us. But what about the genes that lie behind these traits?

“It’s well known that people marry folks who are like them,” said Benjamin Domingue, research associate at the University of Colorado Boulder and lead author of the paper. “But there’s been a question about whether we mate at random with respect to genetics.”

On the surface, Domingue’s findings seem to contradict previous research, which showed that for certain parts of the genome, opposites do seem to attract. The most famous of these studies is known as the ‘sweaty t-shirt study’, in which researcher Claus Wedekind asked women to sniff strangers’ two-day old t-shirts, and rate how sexually attracted they were to the various odours. In that study, women favoured the smell of men who differed from them on specific genetic markers which are linked to the immune system. The findings were widely publicised and even inspired DNA-based dating. The website Gene Partner, for example, matches couples based partly on certain DNA markers, and claims their approach leads to a more satisfying sex life, higher chances of forming enduring relationships, and higher fertility rates. Whereas opposites may attract when it comes to the genes involved in building our immune system, Domingue’s new study shows that across the genome as a whole, we prefer to pair up with those who resemble us.

In addition to investigating the possible link between genes and wedded bliss, the researchers wanted to measure the relative power of genes in the game of attraction. To do this, they compared the level of genetic similarity of spouses with a factor that is known to play a huge role in the forming of partnerships: educational level. It is a well-documented phenomenon that people tend to get romantically involved with those who have a comparable number of years of education under their belt. This tendency has a big impact on society, as it is an important contributor to the rise in income inequality between households. The researchers found that the preference for a genetically similar spouse is about a third as potent as that of educational level.

The findings have implications for the estimates of heritability of certain diseases. Current models used to understand how genes are passed on, assume that partnerships are created at random as far as genes are concerned.

A major drawback of the new study is that it focused mainly on all-white couples, and the researchers call for further research to elucidate how these patterns might apply for married people of other races as well as for interracial couples.  

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral