Poets may rant about romantic fate, but now a simple (and oh-so sexy) mouth swab might be able to tell you if that new lover could be The One. Professor Michael Gillings, a biologist from Macquarie University in Sydney, tells CLEO there have been advances in several areas that make this seemingly sci-fi process a reality. “Human DNA analysis, brain imaging, and understanding of how hormones interact have led us to better understand love,” he explains. “We can rate the sincerity of love by analysing a couple of key genes and neurotransmitters: oxytocin, serotonin and vasopressin.” But is it a test you’d want to take?
How Deep Is Your Love?
“At the beginning of a relationship, our oxytocin levels are elevated,” Gillings says. Oxytocin, known as the cuddle hormone, is related to trust, bonding and empathy, and is released during childbirth, orgasm and romance. “Measuring the levels of oxytocin in each partner is actually a good predictor of how long the relationship is going to last,” Gillings reveals. “You could get a blood sample from your new boyfriend or girlfriend and find out how long they are going to hang around.” Brain imaging also reveals levels of oxytocin during early romantic love. The higher the oxytocin levels, the deeper the love and more likely it is to last. So now all you have to figure out is how to work, “Hey, baby, let’s go get some brain scans this weekend” into your conversation… So what about early on, when being apart from your new love feels like losing an arm? Well, that’s more physiological than spiritual, too. The neurotransmitter serotonin is associated with mood, and Gillings says people with very low levels of serotonin are often diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. “They are obsessive and emotionally intense,” he says. “For some, serotonin is also dramatically lowered in the early stages of romantic love,” Gillings explains. “People become obsessed with their new love. It’s a style of loving called mania. Calculating the serotonin levels can reveal how obsessed we are with our new lover.”
“There’s even a test to find out if your guy is a player. It works like this: vasopressin is a hormone that affects social behaviour, and there are genes that control this hormone,” Gillings explains. “The section in front of the gene is a good indicator of fidelity,” he says. The strength of a person’s emotional attachment is linked to the length of that front section of the gene. In a recent study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers monitored rodents and found the males were monogamous and took care of their females and young. But another related rodent – who had a shorter part of this particular gene than their cousins – preferred to live the player’s life. The males would mate and leave, not staying to care for their family.
“The kicker is that you can take the gene from the [first rodent] and inject it into the [second rodent’s] brain and, all of a sudden, this promiscuous rodent becomes a stay-at-home dad. It’s a gene that looks to control promiscuity and parental investment – and humans have it.” Gillings says DNA sequencing can actually reveal the length of a person’s fidelity gene. “When you are going out with a new guy, you could get a sample of his DNA, sequence it and say, ‘I’m not going out with him, he’s got a tiny part of this gene that would be a good prediction he is going to be promiscuous.’”
Here And Now
These tests are currently available in labs, but molecular biologists are working on technology that would allow people to do the test at home. “It’s called nanopore DNA sequencing. It will be available to everyone and it’ll be really cheap,” Gillings explains. “The machines will be about the size of a USB stick. Operating on a laptop, it will generate a DNA sequence using the sample you put in.” The technology will be out in months and will cost about $1,000, but Gillings predicts that in 10 years’ time, even supermarkets will stock them. Future divorce battles may also be argued over the presence of these genes, he adds. “An excuse for being adulterous might be, ‘Look, I can’t help it – I’ve got this gene that makes me promiscuous.’”
“While seriously impressive, these advancements present some moral and ethical dilemmas,” says Gillings. “I predict there’ll be DNA matchmaking services, and I worry that people are going to set up testing for these things, but not have the proper counselling to give reasonable advice. After all, our behaviour is affected by our environment. You may have the gene for promiscuity, but if you have been cheated on a number of times and know how that feels, as a result, you might never cheat.”
Image: Dmytro Sukharevskyy / 123RF.com
Text: Rosie Squires
Additional text: Natalie Pang