A Dating App That Matches Users Based on Their DNA Isn’t a Totally Bad Idea
George Church’s app sounds like eugenics, but it’s based on tech that’s already available
Harvard geneticist George Church — known for his ambitious and often provocative biotech research projects, like attempting to resurrect the woolly mammoth, reverse aging, and make human cells resistant to all viruses — is working on yet another venture that is raising eyebrows: a DNA-based dating app.
In an interview with 60 Minutes this week, Church said the app will compare users’ DNA with the genetic code of potential partners and screen out matches that would result in a child with an inherited disease. “You wouldn’t find out who you’re not compatible with. You’ll just find out who you are compatible with,” he said in the interview with Scott Pelley. It’s not the first time Church has talked about the idea of “genetic matchmaking.” Adding a layer of scrutiny to Church’s proposed app is the fact that he met with and accepted funding from convicted child sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Church’s app doesn’t exist yet, but critics say it sounds like a contemporary form of eugenics, the 19th-century idea of genetically “improving” the human species by using selective breeding for supposedly desirable traits. They’re right to be concerned about which genes the app would screen for and whether disabled people and those with genetic diseases could end up further marginalized. But an app that looks for debilitating disorders could actually be helpful for some would-be parents. And, in fact, similar services to the one Church is proposing already exist, albeit on a smaller scale.
Take Dor Yeshorim, a nonprofit organization founded in 1983 that provides genetic screening to members of the Jewish community. People of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewish descent are at a higher risk for certain inherited diseases, like Tay-Sachs, an often-fatal disorder in children that destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Both parents need to carry the genetic mutation for Tay-Sachs for their children to inherit the disease. Dor Yeshorim’s founder, Josef Ekstein, is a rabbi who lost four children to the devastating disorder.