Student Thoughts: It’s in our DNA: social circles ‘genetically similar’

Michelle Marchante / Staff Writer

How boring would life be if friends didn’t exist? They’re like your unofficial family who happen to share your exact same interests and even if they don’t, it doesn’t matter because for some strange reason you just click. It’s almost automatic how you become friends with certain people – like it’s just natural to be friends with them, but haven’t you ever wondered why? Well it turns out, it’s not just experiences and laugh worthy moments that you share with them but also DNA.

According to a new study that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by Nicholas Christakis of Yale University and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego during July 2014, friends are often genetically similar and can share as much as one percent of the same gene variants. Genetically speaking, this means that our friends share as much DNA strands with us as our fourth cousins do.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure why our social circles tend to be genetically similar people but they believe it has something to do with humankind’s survival instinct. During the study, researchers were able to discover that the common genes shared between friends were the genes that evolved the most rapidly over the past 30,000 years. This led Christakis to conclude that, “it seems that our fitness depends not only on our own genetic constitutions, but also on the genetic constitution of our friends.”

Further research proved that our friendships might indeed stem from a primitive survival instinct since the people we choose to surround ourselves with have vastly different immune systems. This offers us extra “immunological protection” by helping our own immune system build defenses against diseases that could potentially harm us.

While genetic makeup may be part of the reason why we’re friends with someone it can’t be the only reason. Researchers believe that DNA is a strong influence when it comes to our interests, and it probably is, but there are other outside forces to consider such as your environment and culture. Besides, thinking that the only reason you’re friends with someone is because you share similar genetic characteristics makes it sound too robotic, too predetermined, like we don’t have a say in the matter.

Not to mention that if the sole reason for friendships comes from survival in terms of genetics and immunity, then what does that mean in reference to when you lose a friendship? Following the new view scientists have of humans being metagenomic, meaning that we’re not just a combination of our own genes but of the genes of people with whom we closely associate with, then does that mean our genetic makeup suddenly went through some type of rapid mutation which made us become incompatible?

Friendship is a curious thing and scientists are curious people but it seems like further research on this topic will be needed before it can be officially stated that you can only be friends with people that are just like you, in the purest sense of the word.

When it comes to the nature of friendships, even if science is right and friendships only form through DNA compatibility, it doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day, we choose to be friends with someone, we choose to create memories with them and we choose to make them important figures in our lives.

The best part about this scientific discovery though is that the next time your family asks you if you always have to hang out with your friends, you can look at them with a straight face and say, “they’re essential to my survival,” and actually mean it because Science says so.

About the Author

Michelle Marchante
Michelle Marchante is the 2018-2019 Editor-in-Chief of PantherNOW. Majoring in broadcast journalism, she lives and breathes web, print, radio and TV news 24/7. You can connect with her on Twitter @TweetMichelleM

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