The genetic components of attractiveness

Koldo Garcia Etxebarria

You travel by metro, or by bus, and you are reading this article when the vehicle stops at a new stop. You raise your head and watch the people come in. You see a face, you put your gaze on it and something inside you tells you that that face is attractive. You don't know why, but it is so. You arrive at your destination and continue with your day, however, you cannot get that image out of your head, that face has enchanted you. It could be the beginning of a novel, but to some extent it is a matter of genetics.

Throughout history, much has been written about beauty and hundreds of works of art have tried to represent it. The human being lives obsessed with beauty and, today, is the pillar of a gigantic industry. Even unconsciously, we pay attention to different characteristics to measure beauty. Some of those that have been studied in depth are youth, health, amount of fat, complexion, color, symmetry and character. Although the concept of attractiveness varies according to individuals and culture, if the same set of faces is shown to different people, consensus appears around attractiveness both within a culture and between different cultures. This indicates that there may be a biological basis when deciding what is beautiful.

The evolutionary basis that may exist around attractiveness has given, and will continue to give, much to talk about. It is a complex issue to analyze whether, when choosing a partner, attractiveness and its components serve to measure the "quality" of the potential partner. For example, the fact of seeing women with young faces can be associated with the ability to reproduce; the amount of fat and the complexion can be related to the state of health; or other characteristics may indicate that the person is a carrier of genes that can guarantee survival. However, the relationship between characteristics and "desirable" genes is not so clear: although symmetry, masculinity, weight and / or habituality have been given as examples of these associations, there really are many doubts about it. It has been suggested that the characteristics that are attractive to finding a "suitable" partner have been selected by evolution, but that is nothing more than speculation. Although in the field of sociology and / or psychology what makes a face attractive has been studied, its genetic basis, if it exists, is little known.

A recent study has analyzed the genetic components that may influence facial attractiveness . It should be borne in mind that it is not easy to obtain data remittances with genetic data and information on attractiveness, since it is very expensive. In this work we have used the data from the study called Wisconsin Longitudinal Study which collects these data. The participants were a third of the 1957 graduate students from the Wisconsin institutes (USA), whose genetic data was collected between 2006 and 2007 using their saliva. Their attractiveness was measured by twelve participants (six women and six men) between 2004 and 2008, based on photographs from the 1957 high school yearbook. It must be said that, although the photograph of each of the students was valued by For the twelve participants, not all the photographs were analyzed by the same twelve participants, since approximately eighty people worked in the assessment work. After collecting and adapting the data, more than seven million genetic markers that could influence the attractiveness of almost four thousand people were analyzed through the associative study of the entire genome.

Considering that attractiveness is a characteristic complex, it is worth asking to what extent genes influence. In this new work they have observed that the influence of genes is less than what had been previously calculated. However, they have had the opportunity to link various regions of the genome with attractiveness: two of them had a clear relationship, and another ten, quite strong. It should be mentioned that the connection of some of these regions was linked, in some cases, to sex, both of the observers and of the people whose attractiveness was being measured. Therefore, the authors suggest that the facial attractiveness gene may be sex-specific.

Analyzing the genetic components that were located in these regions of the genome, they observed that these genetic components had previously been related to skin color, body mass index, height, waist-hip ratio, and facial morphology. In addition, they found that the attractiveness gene was correlated with other characteristics: body mass index in women and fat in men. In other words, the genetics of attractiveness was related to the genetics of the factors that can condition attractiveness.

This work has provided new data to delve into the genetic basis of attractiveness, but it also has its limitations. On the one hand, observant people showed great fickleness in measuring the attractiveness of each person; In other words, there was a disparity of opinions when deciding what is attractive. This highlights the influence of the observer, and it must not be forgotten that the attractiveness of each person has not been valued by the same group of observers. On the other hand, this work was carried out only with a population of European origin, so it is worth wondering if the genetic components are similar in other populations or are there other more desirable characteristics. It will not be easy to resolve these limitations, since, as we have commented, it is difficult to obtain this type of data and it is difficult to determine all the factors that can condition attractiveness.

In summary, it seems that there may be a genetic basis in the characteristics that are attractive to us; and although it has its limitations, this work is a new step towards understanding why you cannot get that face you just saw in the subway or on the bus out of your head: they are his genes.

Bibliographic reference:

White, Julie D., Puts, David A. (2019). Genes influence facial attractiveness through intricate biological relationships. PLoS Genetics 15 (4), e1008030. DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pgen.1008030

About the author: Koldo Garcia Etxebarria ( @koldotxu ) is a doctor in Genetics, researcher at Biodonostia-Biosanitary Research Institute and scientific disseminator.

This article was originally published in Basque on May 19, 2019 on the blog Zientzia Kaiera . Article original .

The article The genetic components of attractiveness has been written in Cuaderno de Cultura Científica .

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