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Apart From Emotions, Close Friends Share Some Genetic Features: Study
- Updated: July 15, 2014
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that we are more likely to share genetic features with our close friends than with strangers.
“Looking across the whole genome, we find that, on average, we are genetically similar to our friends. We have more DNA in common with the people we pick as friends than we do with strangers in the same population,” said Prof. James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at University of California (UC) San Diego.
Yale and UC researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study to examine 1.5 million genetic markers of 1,932 people. In order to eliminate the bias caused by clinging more to those of the same race, in their investigation the researchers accounted for ancestry and race. The majority of the subjects in the Framingham study were of European ancestry.
Prof Fowler and Prof Nicholas Christakis, co-author of the study, calculated a “kinship coefficient” using the genetic markers from pairs of friends and strangers. The scientists found that it was slightly higher among friends, and that friends share around one percent of their genes, the level of similarity expected for fourth cousins.
A friendship score developed by the team allowed them predict how well people would get along, based on their genetic markers. The tool proved as accurate as similar genetic tests for schizophrenia and obesity.
Sense of smell was found to be most similar among close friends, while immune system responses were least-alike. It is possible that genetic similarities assisted humans in times when they were hunter-gatherers. For example, similar levels of hunger could have put people sharing genetic features on similar hunting schedules.
The actual mechanism by which we select our friends based on genes is still unclear.
Referring to scepticism expressed by some other scientists, Prof. Fowler said: “I think that they’re unusual findings, and that usually draws criticisms from scientists.”