Saliva isn't generally regarded as a matchmaking tool, but a Montreal dating service is hoping to change that, one swab at a time.
The company, Intermezzo, has paired up with a Swiss company to offer hopeful singles "genetic compatibility" tests. These involve dabbing the insides of their mouths and mailing the DNA-loaded swabs to a lab in Europe.
Launched last month, the pilot project is too young to have yielded a success rate, but staff at Intermezzo are crossing their fingers for the 90 clients who have so far taken the tests. The service will follow up with them and their "biological matches" in August.
"[Clients]really believe in it, or they really want to try," said Maude Ouellet, an Intermezzo research assistant. "They just want to know if it works. People are curious, and when it's about love, people are ready to take chances."
For the cost of a membership, Ms. Ouellet said the company is offering the DNA tests as "a little extra" to other matchmaking services.
Staff at Zurich-based GenePartner claim "biological compatibility" yields more enduring relationships, better sex and healthier kids. In 2003, the company gathered DNA samples from couples who had been together for between five and 30 years and gave them a questionnaire about their relationship. They found that certain genetic combinations of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes appeared between happy couples, chief executive Tamara Brown explained.
HLA genes are involved in immune resistance. "It's an incentive for any individual to choose a partner where that combination can give potential offspring resistance to diseases," Dr. Brown said.
Dr. Brown and her Canadian associates acknowledge that appearances, social cues and cultural factors rule in mate-choosing. "What we of course cannot foresee and do not test are personality and social components," Dr. Brown said.
There remains considerable doubt that the tests will tell people any more about their dates than a good old-fashioned French kiss, especially since GenePartner's partnerships with other dating services in Switzerland and Germany also remain at the pilot project stage.
"Without convincing data to the contrary, we must assume that GenePartner sells a technology that is redundant or contradictory to what will ultimately be determined through non-genetically mediated means: the face-to-face encounter and years of history we bring to those encounters," said Kimberly TallBear, an assistant professor of science, technology and environmental policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
Without evidence of its effectiveness, TallBear added, the most innovative aspect of GenePartner's scheme may be "the savvy of marketers in matching consumer fetishes for genetic ideas with Internet dating."