Given the choice, would you rather have been born with a different eye color, hair color or skin tone? Maybe you would have chosen to be taller, thinner or more muscular. Of course, you didn’t have these options. The physical and personal traits a person winds up with are just one big roll of the dice, with only the biological parents’ genes to draw from. However, within advances in genetics research, people may soon preselect their children’s physical and personality traits like they pick out options on a new car.
Scientists have only begun to unravel the secrets hidden within the human genome , the genetic blueprint for a human being. The mapping of the genome was finished in 2003, and scientists are continuing on the quest to discover what each gene does and how it functions.
So, what is a designer baby?
A designer baby is a baby that is the result of genetic screening or genetic modification. Embryos may be screened prior to implantation, or possibly gene therapy techniques could be used to create desired traits in a child.
If you had the ability to tinker with the genetics of your baby, would you?
What if you could prevent a hereditary disease? Might it become ‘unethical’ to NOT correct genetic errors?
Since we discovered CRISPR/Cas9, a tool used to “edit” the human genome with incredible precision, these questions are no longer theoretical and philosophical — they are very, very real.
Just three years after its initial development, CRISPR technology is already widely used by biologists as a kind of search-and-replace tool to alter DNA, even down to the level of a single letter.
By editing the DNA of these cells or the embryo itself (germline engineering), it could be possible to correct disease genes and pass those genetic fixes on to future generations.
Such a technology could be used to rid families of scourges like cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.
This history-making medical advance could be as important to this century as vaccines were to the last.
By some measures, U.S. public opinion is not particularly negative toward the idea of genetically modifying babies.
A Pew Research survey carried out last August found that 46 percent of adults approved of genetic modification of babies to reduce the risk of serious diseases.Interestingly, the same survey found that 83 percent said genetic modification to make a baby smarter would be “taking medical advances too far.”
Pros and Cons of Designer Babies
- Reduces risk of genetic diseases
- Reduces risk of inherited medical conditions
- Keep pace with others doing it
- Better chance the child will succeed in life
- Better understanding of genetics
- Increased life span
- Can give a child genes that the parents do not carry
- Prevent next generation of family from getting characteristics/diseases
- Termination of embryos
- Could create a gap in society
- Possibility of damage to the gene pool
- Baby has no choice in the matter
- Genes often have more than one use
- Geneticists are not perfect
- Loss of Individuality
- Other children in family could be affected by parent’s decision
- Only the rich can afford it
At least three other centers in the United States are working on germline engineering, as are scientists in China, in the U.K., and at a biotechnology company called OvaScience, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that boasts some of the world’s leading fertility doctors on its advisory board and has raised over $132 million.
The objective of these groups is to demonstrate that it’s possible to produce children free of specific genes involved in inherited disease.
If it’s possible to correct the DNA in a woman’s egg or a man’s sperm, those cells could be used in an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic to produce an embryo and then a child.
It might also be possible to directly edit the DNA of an early-stage IVF embryo using CRISPR.
Life as we know it is becoming programmable.
These changes are happening fast, in the next decade or so… beyond that, in the far future, things get even crazier.