Love from a cheek swab? That's what founders of a new dating app are promising.
There always seems to be another dating app popping up with promises of helping find romance — just answer this, just swipe that — but one new online dating service is incorporating genetics into the mix and promising something other apps cannot: compatibility through genetics.
The app is called Pheramor, a cross between pheromone, the small molecules that are emitted from the body and are smelled by the people around us,and amour, the French word for love.
The Houston-based company competed in a recent Bay Area pitch competition, where they stood out with a charismatic presentation that included references to their own failed attempts at online dating.
"Who here is single as hell and tired of swiping on Tinder?" asked Brittany Barreto, chief scientific officer and co-founder of Pheramor.
"I am," replied data scientist Asma Mirza, the company's CEO and co-founder. Audience members also chimed in.
"What if I told you that with this genetic cheek swab, I could tell you who you'd be attracted to, and who is going to be attracted to you based on your cheek cells?" Mirza said.
The company claims their app is based on 40 years of research showing that there are 11 genetic markers proven by scientists to be "responsible for attraction."
"Pheramor looks at genetics-based human attraction and social media metadata to help people increase their efficiency of dating," said Mirza.
Rasmus Nielsen, professor of computational biology and human genetics at UC-Berkeley, said "the 11 genetic markers, or MHC type, that they are referencing are the same that have to do with protection against viruses and pathogens."
Nielsen said research has shown that mice can recognize DNA that's similar to their parents' and avoid mating with their siblings.
"We've been looking into whether something like that is going on in humans. And there is some idea that maybe when we mate, we avoid individuals with the same MHC type. And that's what they are basing it on. But the science is sketchy. It's still very, very, very,very controversial as to whether humans can even do this. And there's really very little science into whether it would help us predict mates," Nielsen added.
On their website, Pheramor states, "We are constantly smelling each other's pheromone profiles and deciding subconsciously how attractive that individual is to us."
Pheramor cites a study done in the 1990s called "The Sweaty T-shirt Experiment." In the study, women rated T-shirts worn consecutively for three days by specific men. The scientists found that women were more attracted to the scent of a man whose genetics were more diverse than their own.
But Nielsen argues the study has never really been replicated successfully.
"Our ability to predict anything from genetic data is relatively poor, and something like mate choice — who you are attracted to — you really cannot predict that at all. It's to a certain degree like selling snake oil, because you can't really do it. The genetics is not worked out well enough yet," he said.
The founders say critics are focusing too much on the pheromones. They point out that the app doesn't just look at genetics, it pairs the genetic information with your social media activity to get a fuller picture of your personality and interests.
Users are able to connect all of their social media activity to the app, which Pheramor uses with its proprietary algorithm to help match mates. And to discourage endless swiping, each match shows up as a blurred photo, placing the emphasis on the compatibility score, not physical appearance.
"So, you download the app, you purchase a kit, you instantly start to match with local singles based on the metadata from social media," Barreto said. "When you swab your cheek, you send it back to us — it takes about two weeks for you — the genetic information will just enhance the compatibility scores."
In addition to finding romance, the company said Pheramor is also helping save lives.
The same 11 genetic markers they are looking at are the same used to fight blood cancers. Pheramor has partnered with a national cancer registry called Gift of Life in which customers have the option of being added to the registry to potentially be a match for someone fighting leukemia, lymphoma or other blood disorders
For young, would-be lovers who want to throw their hats in the ring, the DNA test costs $19.99, with a $10-a-month service fee. It's available oniOS and Android. Perhaps a small price to pay if their science has even the smallest possibility of leading to love?