Even Without CRISPR, Parents Can Genetically Tailor Smarter IVF Babies

If you haven’t heard yet, a Chinese scientist named He Jiankui recently claimed to have created the first genetically altered babies, a pair of twins named Nana and Lulu. Though there are some issues with his story (such as the hospital involved claiming that they have no knowledge of the twins), the news has sparked global debate on the ethics of genetic engineering in humans. According to medical researcher Adam Barsouk, however, we’ve been able to effectively tailor our prospective children to our tastes for years using prenatal genetic diagnosis (PGD), and the next step might be screening for smart children.

Since the advent of in-vitro fertilization roughly 30 years ago, parents have had access to multiple genetic candidates for their kids. With the rise of human genetic sequencing in 2003, scientists gained the ability to screen IVF embryos that carried a high risk for a debilitating disease, sparing parents from having to raise a child with, say, a heart defect or a mental illness. There is a definite upside to PGD, but the same technique could be used to select embryos that fit parent’s tastes, especially when it comes to gender.

Or, if you’re Genomic Prediction, a New Jersey-based company specializing in IVF, you could screen your embryos for intelligence.

According to their website, Genomic Prediction “offers IVF parents a cost-effective means to evaluate genetic risk due to chromosomal abnormality (ploidy), single-gene mutations, and polygenic diseases.” This includes a test that is able to measure an embryo’s risk for having an IQ below 75 (for reference, an IQ below 75 is considered to be a disability). Though the science of intelligence is still dicey, GP’s test poses another difficult ethical question for scientists and parents: at what point does genetic customization cross the line from being a medical mercy to creating designer babies?

Cover image adapted from images by Lunar Caustic – CC BY S.A. 2.0 and Wikimedia Commons – AMitchell125  – CC BY S.A. 3.0

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