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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.