Whether we’re making them or receiving them, first impressions can have big consequences. Our initial gut feelings transform strangers into potential friends, acquaintances into future partners. And according to some scientists, that initial whiff of personality is tied to genetics.
Looking at data on friendships and genetics from both the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the Framingham Heart Study, scientists noticed two trends: people with a genetic variant linked to alcoholism tended to flock together, while those with a genetic variant tied to metabolism and openness to new ideas tended to stay away from each other.
TIME quotes lead researcher James Fowler of the University of California-San Diego:
“This might be the first step towards understanding the biology of ‘chemistry,’ the feeling you have of … whether you like or dislike a person [almost immediately],” Fowler says, noting that this can affect both romantic connections and friendships. “We might choose friends not [only] because of social features we consciously notice but because of biological and even genetic features that we unconsciously notice.” In turn, the friends we have could then affect the potential partners we meet.
Had her baby been switched at birth in a hospital mishap? That’s what one mother thought after getting her child’s results from the personal genetics testing company 23andMe and finding that his genetic profile was inconsistent with the rest of the family’s. After she finished screaming and crying, she contacted the company. Sorry for the inconvenience, she was told–we just mixed up his sample.
The company that asks clients to spit in vials is now putting its foot in its mouth: it gave up to 96 customers a look at the wrong genes. 23andMe posted an apology, viewable only to clients, on their website.
The Los Angeles Times also published the statement, which blamed the snafu on a processing error at a contractor lab:
Have you ever tasted spoiled beer? Twenty-six-year-old Monique Haakensen once did. A few years ago, when the Canadian woman watched her brothers attempt to brew their own beer, the end result smelled like cheese and tasted awful.
To figure out what caused the beer to go bad, Haakensen, a University of Saskatchewan graduate student, bottled the beer and brought it into the lab. Using a technique called polymerase chain reaction, she was able to discover two new genes (hitA and horC) that hastened the growth of bacteria in beer.
Normally, bacteria don’t grow in beer, but when there’s a resistance-associated gene in the brew, certain strains can thrive. The most common bacteria that causes beer spoilage is lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Haakensen looked to see how LAB’s isolates, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, grew in beer. By using this new form of DNA testing, Haakensen can now tell breweries how quickly their beer will go bad by checking for the presence of either hitA or horC.
Attention criminals: You might want to consider changing your last name to Smith, the most common—and least traceable—last name in both Britain and the U.S. Why? Because men may be carrying a name tag in their genes.
The Y chromosome is passed from father to son with little variation, and in many cultures, so are last names. Researchers at Leicester University in the U.K. seized on this coincidence to study the genetic linkages among British surnames. She found that men who share the same last name, especially the less common ones, are likely to share a common ancestor. This means your Googlegänger is probably a long lost relative after all.