Would you want a designer baby? 1 in 3 Americans open to having genetically-enhanced child

DANVILLE, Pa. — A new survey finds many couples are looking to give their child an edge in life — before they’re even born. Roughly one in three Americans say they would take advantage of both gene editing and polygenic screening to increase their child’s chances of getting into a good college. While this technology has the ability to screen for potential diseases, researchers warn that the time for a discussion about creating genetically-enhanced humans who have a societal edge over other people is now.

Specifically, the poll found that those with college degrees and people under the age of 35 (prime child-bearing age) are more willing to use polygenic embryo screening and in vitro fertilization (IVF) to have a smarter child. Polygenic indexes (or polygenic risk scores) give doctors and parents an estimate of the risk for developing various diseases based on a person’s genes.

Researchers note that private companies are already working with IVF clinics to help prospective parents choose an embryo that has a lower risk of developing conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Some parents are reportedly going even further, uploading their embryos’ genomic data to platforms which make predictions about non-medical traits.

Despite all the good some of these technological advancements can bring, researchers note that there is essentially no regulation on reproductive genetic technology. With that in mind, corresponding author Michelle Meyer of Geisinger Health System and the team wanted to see what the public thinks about using genetic tech during pregnancy.

The team asked respondents how likely they would be to use polygenic screenings, CRISPR-style gene editing, or a standard SAT prep course in order to improve their child’s chances of getting into a top-100 college in the United States. Importantly, researchers told the group that each method would be safe and free in this scenario.

Many parents would jump on ‘the bandwagon’

Overall, 68 percent would have their child participate in SAT prep courses. However, 28 percent would consider using gene editing and 38 percent would use polygenic screenings. When researchers told respondents that “most people” would use all three methods, they were more likely to say they would use genetic technology too — showing that there’s definitely a “bandwagon effect” when it comes to parenting.

Based on the results, researchers note that there seems to be a growing interest in the U.S. in “enhancing” social and behavioral outcomes, like educational attainment. However, study authors say there are currently limits to polygenic screening. Patients may form mistaken impressions about the technology’s effectiveness and risks.

“Polygenic indexes are already only weak predictors for most individual adult outcomes, especially for social and behavioral traits, and there are several factors that lower their predictive power even more in the context of embryo selection,” says senior author Patrick Turley, Ph.D., an assistant research professor of economics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, in a media release. “Polygenic indexes are designed to work in a different setting than an IVF clinic. These weak predictors will perform even worse when used to select embryos.”

“There is—rightly—a lot of concern among scholars, including us, that companies and IVF clinics that use polygenic embryo screening could intentionally or unintentionally exaggerate its likely impact,” adds Dr. Meyer, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Bioethics and Decision Sciences at Geisinger and study first author. “But in this study, we stipulated a realistic effect—that each service would increase the odds of having a child who attends a top-100 college by 2 percentage points, from 3% to 5% odds—and lots of people are still interested.”

The findings appear in the journal Science.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. This is actually a good idea compared to experiments being done in totalitarian countries. And it runs opposite to couples getting abortions.

  2. An East Asian and an n-word having a baby together? Sure, that’s gonna happen…

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