Designer Babies: The pursuit to perfection

Having kids might be as simple as Picking height and eye color from a catalog

By James Breedlove | April 8 2017, 2:22am EST

High school in the year 2037

Every day you’ve been training to make the track team which you hope will lead to a full ride scholarship! You’re in your prime and go into tryouts confident, only to find that your competitor is different. Liam trains about once a week, and yet he can run the same distance without losing breath, His metabolism keeps up with everything he eats, and his muscles are in perfect proportions for running long distance while not being too heavy. Unsurprisingly Liam is chosen over you, inevitably receiving the scholarship, furthering his education at the prestigious school putting him ahead in the corporate world. In this world, Liam is not a phenomenon. Liam is part of a growing population of designer babies who have been specially engineered to outperform others who have not been modified. Such a scenario is an impending one, and the choices we make now will affect how our grandchildren, or possibly even our own children will grow up.

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What Exactly are Designer Babies

Designer babies are babies who have had their genes altered in ordered to remove or add certain traits, or what scientist might call expressions in the child. Essentially, the process of “designing” a human involves the fertilization of a sperm, and egg outside the body. Specific genes of the trait you want to edit or remove can then be edited with a technique know as CRISPR. The embryo is then brought to term in the mother possessing the altered genes when born.

CRISPR/CAS9 is a big deal

The deciding factor separating this near future practice from complete science fiction is a recently developed technique called CRISPR/Cas9. The specifics of how CRISPR works as you might imagine are pretty involved, so I’ll provide a simplified explanation. Essentially the new DNA you want to insert is held in a Cas9 protein. RNA is designed to match with a specific pattern of DNA, ie the gene you want to change and is put at the end of the Cas9. This RNA acts as the engine of a train guiding the Cas9 protein to the correct spot in your cells which it then cuts out the existing gene, and inserts its self in. compared to other methods CRISPR is extremely easy to do and as exploded in popularity over that past few years.

 

Gene editing today

CRISPR is already used today in various other applications such as creating GMO’s. much of the food we eat would be very different without editing the genetics of our food. For instance, 99% of the bananas sold in the US are genetically identical created to make it easier to ship to other countries, every banana is literally a CLONE! While this might me initially surprising, this just shows that we are directly affected by genetic modification every day. Humans have been doing it for thousands of years with practices such as breeding two calm wolves together to make what we now call dogs. CRISPR, however, a different technique can be thought of as just a faster way of doing what we’ve always done.

 

Is it ethical

When talking about Designer Babies, the question of ‘should we do this’ often comes up. In a philosophical debate, a supporter of the practice might raise “Is it ethical not to cure a horrible desire in a baby when we have the capability?” in an attempt to show that it is ethical to alter a baby. Someone against the practice may refute the argument with their own question “Is it ethical to cherry pick the eye color of a child, and potentially harming what would have otherwise been a healthy baby”. In this case, the argument is that nothing is 100% perfect and potentially crippling a child at the expense of picking out ideal traits is wrong. Both arguments are valid and there is no right or wrong answer to this question. One thing to keep in mind however, is that the genes that you’re born with will be passed down to your kids, and through generations. This could include exceptional intelligence or a mental deficiency. So as we as a people begin to talk about this, it’s important to keep in mind the weight of our decisions. The regulations we create today, will affect our kids tomorrow.

More Information & External Links

_____________________________

embryo.asu.edu: CRISPR

 

vmbryo.asu.edu: Vitro

 

motherboard.vice.com

 

neb.com

 

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CRISPR/CAS9 is a big deal

The deciding factor separating this near future practice from complete science fiction is a recently developed technique called CRISPR/Cas9. The specifics of how CRISPR works as you might imagine are pretty involved, so I’ll provide a simplified explanation. Essentially the new DNA you want to insert is held in a Cas9 protein. RNA is designed to match with a specific pattern of DNA, ie the gene you want to change and is put at the end of the Cas9. This RNA acts as the engine of a train guiding the Cas9 protein to the correct spot in your cells which it then cuts out the existing gene, and inserts its self in. compared to other methods CRISPR is extremely easy to do and as exploded in popularity over that past few years.