Designer Babies: The Science and Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Designer Babies: The Science and Ethics of Genetic Engineering

August 22, 2019 76 By Bernardo Ryan


Have you ever dreamt of having awesome super-human
powers like the X-men? With recent improvements in gene therapy,
the reality of designer babies is closer than ever. But this begs the question; if you were having
a child- would you want to pick and choose their traits? Is this even ethical? And how far can the use of these technologies
actually go? Remember, we post new content every single
week, so subscribe to our channel and click that bell icon, so you don’t miss out! Now, back to the video… The phrase ‘designer baby’ refers to one
whose genetic makeup has been altered or chosen to provide the desired genome. There are currently three technologies that
have been developed to enable this, all of which involve manipulating fertilised eggs
before in-vitro fertilisation: 1. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis This is the simplest of the three methods,
and doesn’t involve any gene editing. Instead, it involves choosing between viable
eggs for the one that best satisfies what the parents want. For example, it can be used to screen for
diseases or even to pre-determine gender. 2. TALEN’s TALEN’s, which stands for ‘Transcription
Activator-Like Effector Nucleases’. These are enzymes that can be designed to
remove specific parts of the DNA strands. They then replace this section, thus allowing
edits to be made. In theory this technique can be used to target
any section of DNA, and has been used to design plants, fuels, and even pets to certain specifications. 3. CRISPR CRISPR, which stands for ‘Clustered Regularly
Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats’, is a process that was discovered in the DNA
sequence of certain bacteria. Their DNA contained snippets of the DNA of
viruses that have previously attacked them to allow them to recognise any threat in the
future. The method by which this new DNA becomes a
part of their own has been replicated to allow the modification of other DNA strands. This again, in theory, allows edits to be
made to any part of the genome. So can these methods be used on humans? Of these three, only the use of Preimplantation
Genetic Diagnosis is already being used for human pregnancies, with the first known case
being in 1988. There remains a long way to go before the
other two methods are deemed safe enough for human use and, as far as has been made public,
there have not yet been uses on a human embryo. Despite only one of these methods being currently
used, there are a number of options that are available to parents. Their eggs can be screened for Gender, Appearance,
Intelligence, Disease, and Personality. Of these, the most common type of screening
is for diseases, particularly for couples who are at high risk of passing them on to
their offspring. Screening for other aspects remains highly
controversial, and in most countries, illegal. Crucially, this technique doesn’t allow
the editing of the genome, but the ability to choose between already viable eggs and
decide which one to proceed with during pregnancy. Another emerging technology is that of three-person
babies. This is a procedure that means a baby has
three genetic parents, with a third person providing the Mitochondrial DNA. This can prevent the development of issues
such as muscular dystrophy, and certain heart and liver conditions. Future Possibilities for Designer Babies As scientists perfect techniques of genetic
manipulation, especially those of TALEN’s and CRISPR, the possibilities that become
unlocked are, theoretically, endless. It will become possible to design every part
of the genome, whether it’s eye colour, hair colour, disease resistance- or far more
advanced traits. What if you could increase brain function,
muscle mass, or eyesight? Lifespans could be lengthened, or perhaps
new human abilities could be developed- So much so, that creating real-life X-men could
come within the realm of possibility. How Will This Change Society? While regulations prohibit these types of
changes, the technology will become so prevalent that more complex designer babies are sure
to happen at some point. There are clear benefits to this; it would
reduce genetic and inherited diseases or conditions, the child will have a better chance to succeed
in life, life spans will increase, and children could be given genes that their parents don’t
possess. But a number of negatives are associated with
this as well. There would be an increased number of terminated
embryos, which many believe to already constitute as living beings. There could be damage to the overall gene
pool, children would have no choice about how their genes will be altered, and there
will be a loss of individuality as everyone become more like a generic ideal. Furthermore, some genes could have multiple
purposes and, if changed, could have wildly unpredictable consequences, and it could lead
to the development of new diseases and vulnerabilities. Main Ethical Issues The main ethical issues about gene modification
is the question of who determines which traits are good or bad? We risk eliminating unique and different people
from society, and that is a problem. The process of designing a baby would also
be incredibly expensive, at least in the beginning. This means that it will be something only
accessible to the rich, and lead to further inequalities in society. The ability to create designer babies is far
closer than we might think and, in some cases, it’s already taking place. While it seems like there are many benefits
to procedures like these, our desire to control every aspect of nature could potentially lead
to our downfall.