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Harvard geneticist plans a dating app based on DNA

16 December 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1028

A Harvard University geneticist is developing a dating app that compares a person's DNA and removes matches that would result in passing genetic diseases to their children.

Professor George Church at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing a novel genetics-based dating app, called Digid8, which he believes would be able to eliminate inherited diseases from humans. Church told 60 Minutes: 'You wouldn't find out who you're not compatible with. You'll just find out who you are compatible with.'

Professor Church's aims are focused on 'whole-genome dating', which uses genome sequencing to identify people who share a genetic mutation and to eliminate them from each other's searches.  Ultimately, people carrying genetic mutations would not match whilst using this dating app and therefore would not meet and go on to have children at risk of inheriting a genetic disease.

Professor Church told 60 Minutes that there are approximately 7000 recessive genetic diseases that can be inherited if a child is born from parents each carrying the same genetic mutation. When two people carrying the same recessive genes have a child, there is a 25 percent chance that the child inherits the genetic disease.

According to MIT Technology Review, Professor Church claims that the genetic matching app could run in the background on existing dating sites to prevent people with the same genetic mutations from meeting through the dating services and lowering the risk of passing on inherited genetic diseases. He claims that about five percent of the population would not be matched on the dating app, leaving 95 percent of users still compatible based on their genetics. Furthermore, Professor Church believes that the expense of genome sequencing could be incorporated into the price of the dating site subscription itself.

However, the genetics dating app is still under development and it is anticipated that it may take years for the genomic sequencing data to be collected before it can be used as part of the dating app service.

The news of the development of a dating app to avoid the inheritance of genetic diseases has met with some criticism. According to an article in Vice News, it is 'the disturbing ideological practice of systematically discriminating against people based on genetic qualities judged to be undesirable or inferior'. The article goes on to compare the genetics dating app with eugenics and the creation of a genetically pure master race with the perceived undesirability of a person's genetic code.

Dr Elizabeth Yuko, an ethicist at Fordham University in New York, told The Daily Beast: 'That sounds like eugenics…I thought we realised after World War II that we weren't going to be doing that.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
A Genetic Dating App Is a Horrifying Thing That Shouldn’t Exist
Vice News |  9 December 2019
A Harvard geneticist's goal: to protect humans from viruses, genetic diseases, and aging
Sixty Minutes |  8 December 2019
Dating App Matches Users Based On Genetics
Medical Daily |  10 December 2019
Epstein-Funded Scientist George Church Is Creating a Genetics-Based Dating App
The Daily Beast |  9 December 2019
Here are some actual facts about George Church’s DNA dating company
MIT Technology Review |  11 December 2019
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