'PGD' Tech Will Give Us Designer Babies Sooner Than You Think—Can Society Handle It?
With the advent of genetic engineering technology like CRISPR, the topic of designer babies has come back with a vengeance, along with all the bioethical quandaries: Should parents be able to shape their child's mental and physical traits before they're even born? Will non-engineered children take on social stigma? Will only the rich be able to save their children from a predisposition to diseases like diabetes or brain cancer?
Well, here's another troubling question: What if you could create 80 potential kids, peer into their DNA profile, and choose which one to keep based on its genetic makeup?
Welcome to the rapidly approaching world of 'PGD', or prenatal genetic diagnosis.
Most 'designer baby' scenarios involve altering an existing embryo with genetic editing, but a new book by Stanford law professor Henry Greely, titled The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction, claims that a new technique that allows scientists to turn other human cells (like skin cells) into eggs will lead to a revolution in how society conceives children.
Normal in-vitro fertilization produces about eight potential eggs, but this method can produce 10 times that number.
At that point, the DNA of each of these fertilized eggs (which will develop into embryos) can be decoded and laid out in front of the prospective parents so they can make decisions on which one suits their taste. Scientists are still trying to understand what genes are tied to traits like athleticism or musical ability, but we've already made progress on identifying which ones are tied to diseases and long-term health problems.
However, there are two problems with this.
First, the epigenome, a large number of chemical compounds that can turn genes on or off in (as of now) unpredictable ways during an embryo's development. Of course, this throws a wrench into scientists' ability to predict how a child will develop.
The second problem is that a lot of parents haven't expressed interest in having "designer" children.
According to Dr. James Grifo, who has performed in-vitro fertilizations at the New York University Fertility Center for 30 years, "No patient has ever come to me and said, 'I want a designer baby.' "
Still, it's probably only a matter of time until someone decides they do want to experiment with children's lives—and then we'll probably see another spike in interest for the 1997 film Gattaca.