DNA testing: How you can edit genes and create designer babies

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You may have heard of gene editing and so-called “designer babies” – but what does that mean, in practice? How do you edit genes, and is that really an ethical thing to do? Let’s discuss!

By Editorial Team | 8th March 2019
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What are designer babies?

While the term “designer babies” sounds like it’s used to describe babies of designers or just babies dressed in designer clothes, it’s much more complex than that – it refers to literally “designing” your child before it’s even born. Gene editing is becoming a reality and it allows people to modify an embryo’s genetic structure. While this incredible technological advancement allows for an impressive and valuable positive impact, it also has some negative, or at the very least, controversial implications and possible applications.

Ways to edit genes

Gene editing can be done through various methods, including germline engineering and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). The first method involves using techniques and tools that are, or may become available for widespread use, like CRISPR, in order for the parents to essentially create the genetic traits they consider desirable in a child – from level of intelligence to whether or not they will be a good athlete.

The other method involves performing a procedure on embryos used in IVF before implantation. When the embryo reaches a certain developmental stage, cells can be removed. Positive and negative traits can be identified and “edited” in or out, to predetermine whether the child will have disabilities, how intelligent they will be, etc.

DNA test swab saliva sample
Traits can be edited in or out of an embryo (Picture: iStock by Getty)
Pros of gene editing
  • Gene editing allows us to understand more about DNA and DNA testing. It enables us to answer questions such as “what is DNA made of?” It provides a deeper insight into our genetic structure.
  • Gene editing makes it possible for us to lessen or even eradicate certain genetic illnesses and conditions, especially ones that are life-threatening or otherwise bring a lot of suffering.
Cons of gene editing
  • Creating “designer babies” can be a slippery slope and ethically questionable – especially when it involves editing and removing traits that are completely normal, such as eye color, voice pitch, intelligence level, etc. The implications are also problematic for aspects that are different from the “norm”, such as homosexuality or being neuro-atypical (e.g. on the autism spectrum).
  • Future implications may even be disastrous. It is difficult to foresee in what way this genetic difference is going to impact humanity, both regarding genetically “superior” individuals and regular humans who have not been modified genetically.
Gene editing has proven controversial (Picture: iStock by Getty)
Why is it so controversial?

It’s hard to ignore the controversy surrounding gene editing – a lot of people are not happy. That’s because, for some, this is coming uncomfortably close to eugenics. If we’re given free rein at “editing” our babies, that means we can choose to edit out any perceived flaw we don’t like, including possibly life-threatening conditions, but also completely benign things, like ethnic features such as non-European noses, curly hair, etc. Some of these “preferences” can be quite problematic, hence the controversy.

The future of gene editing

People are becoming more interested in matters related to DNA, and even DNA testing services such as 23andme, AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, HomeDNA, or LivingDNA are extremely popular nowadays, as everyone is more and more curious about their genes.

Just like the act itself, the future of gene editing is also controversial, because what some experts fear is the creation of a new generation of superhumans that have been edited and predetermined to perfection. Not only does this involve a certain degree of “playing God” that encourages parents to have a very high degree of control over every aspect of their future child, there is also an element of dystopia involved.

This generation of genetically superior humans may create problems along the way for the comparatively inferior “normal” humans, who have not undergone genetic modifications and may exhibit “undesirable” qualities, such as disabilities or certain medical conditions. It could further lead to pressure for every parent to “edit out” these “negative” traits.

Conclusion

All in all, while gene editing is positively fascinating, as a topic, it’s still early days in terms of application, and the ethics of the procedures are still murky, at best. In the meantime, you can just search for the best DNA test kit if you have an interest in DNA, or see what your Ancestry DNA traits are.

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Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team is constantly watching for new and exciting services to report on. They aim to bring balanced, honest reviews to the site to give you the best comparisons and ensure you have the knowledge to choose the product right for you. Read more.
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