What You Need to Know
What are "designer babies"?
Designer babies are babies whose traits have been genetically modified and selected by the parents. Their genetic makeup is altered to fit the desires of their parents. Traits that could be changed are personality traits, hair color, eye color, etc.
How is it being used currently/How does it work? What are the physical effects? What are the potential uses?
"Designing a baby" is not available to the public (In 2009, a fertility clinic in Los Angeles offered parents the choice of designing their babies, but it was quickly shut down by human rights activists and medical professionals). However, the technology is already developed. Here's how it works: embryos would be created outside of the body by manually combining a sperm and egg. Scientists would then observe the embryos' cells to see if they possess a genetic disease- if the couple wishes, the scientists can then implant one of the embryos that do not contain the disease into the womb. Here's where the "designing" comes into play- if the couple wishes, scientists can also identify which embryos contain the parents' desired traits (such as gender, hair and eye color) and only implant one of those. This is called pre-implantion genetic diagnosis (PGD). This method could also be combined with germline gene therapy, which is the manipulation of genes in the sperm, egg, and early embryo.
Designer baby technology is still growing. This past February, researchers from the United Kingdom's Francis Crick Institute began researching ways to utilize a gene-editing enzyme called CRISPR. CRISPR works its way through cells and cuts out parts of genomes. In 2012, it was used to cut out mutations such as sickle cell anemia. The potential uses of designer baby technology and CRISPR are still being researched, but if they continue to develop, they could not only allow parents to create the "baby of their dreams" but also potentially help prevent genetic diseases.
Video: The Science Show discusses Designer Baby Tech
Possible Advantages and Disadvantages
- get rid of genetic diseases and inherited medical conditions
- parents can decide their child's future
- increased life span of the baby (if inherited medical conditions are removed)
- prevent genetic diseases from being passed on to the NEXT generation
- creating and destroying embryos
- lessening of diversity and individuality
- the baby has no say in the matter
- unforeseen complications
- new, underdeveloped technology
It is believed that if designer babies were to become available to the public, the process would be very costly, and would most likely only cater to the wealthier population. Author James Hughes says, "If nobody gets hurt and everybody has access, says Hughes, then genetic modification is perfectly fine."
Researchers and scientists are attempting to use designer baby technology to engineer animals (mainly cattle) in order to produce cows with "valuable production traits." This could possibly affect the cow population and their genetic make-up. Also, many scientists worry that if designer babies become available, parents will favor one gender over another- for example, if everyone wants a male baby, there will soon be more males on Earth than females. If there are not enough females, Earth's population will begin decreasing.
Many activists have spoken out against genetically modified babies. A common worry is that designer babies would result in a loss of diversity and individuality. For example, if every parent loves the idea of a child with blond hair and blue eyes, most of the next generation would be comprised of children with blond hair and blue eyes. People would lose what makes them unique.