41 percent of young, would-be parents open to ‘gene-editing’ for children to make them smarter

A study published this Thursday in Science magazine found that roughly a third of would-be American parents are open to the idea of genetically modifying their babies to increase the likelihood of them being accepted into a top school.

The study in Science magazine specifically asked 6,800 would-be parents about what services they’d be willing to use to increase their children’s chances of getting into the school of their choice.

The options were gene editing, PGP-P (testing for genetic risk factors), and SAT preparation. Whereas 69 percent of respondents were OK with SAT preparations and 43 percent were OK with genetic screening, a 34 percent minority found gene editing acceptable.

However, the 34 percent rose to 41 percent when only factoring in would-be parents under the age of 35. Similarly, those with a higher education were also more open to gene editing.

(Source: Daily Mail)

So what type of genetic editing are we talking about? That’s where things get tricky. As science is slowly progressing, humanity is approaching the point where parents will be able to essentially engineer designer babies. Think of babies with pre-determined better intelligence, better looks, better whatever.

For the time being, would-be parents are stuck with PGT-P, which in fairness itself offers plenty of advantages to them.

“[T]he plummeting cost of genetic sequencing and the sophistication of the tools used to predict characteristics based on the genetics of an individual will soon make it possible to screen for ‘complex traits’ – this is, traits that depend on many genes. This type of analysis is called polygenic screening. In short, it assesses the probability of an embryo exhibiting a trait (such as a health condition) based on the collection of genetic variants it carries that are known to influence that trait,” according to eLife magazine.

“Polygenic screening could allow couples to produce several embryos through IVF, check how likely each one is to manifest one or several complex traits, and, based on that information, decide which embryo to implant. Unlike screening for conditions that depend on a single gene, however, polygenic screening cannot always guarantee that an embryo will manifest a condition. The traits that can be tested for using polygenic screening include many health outcomes, but also characteristics that are more controversial to target, such as the IQ of a future baby (Lázaro-Muñoz et al., 2021).”

The first such birth happened in 2021.

“Rafal Smigrodzki won’t make a big deal of it, but someday, when his toddler daughter Aurea is old enough to understand, he plans to explain that she likely made medical history at the moment of her birth,” Bloomberg reported at the time.

“Aurea appears to be the first child born after a new type of DNA testing that gave her a ‘polygenic risk score.’ It’s based on multiple common gene variations that could each have tiny effects; together, they create higher or lower odds for many common diseases,” it added.

For Aurea’s birth, her parents reportedly began fertility treatments in 2019 to choose the best embryo to implant.

“They turned to a young company called Genomic Prediction and picked the embryo given the best genetic odds of avoiding heart disease, diabetes and cancer in adulthood,” Bloomberg noted.

Dovetailing back to the study, it also found that “people were more likely to take advantage of genetic screening technology when they were told that people in similar situations would do so, suggesting a ‘bandwagon effect,'” according to the Daily Mail, which evidently has access to the full study.

“Those who were told that 90% of relevant people use each service were more likely to say that they, too, would use it, compared to those who were told that 10% of people were using it,” the researchers reportedly wrote.

They reportedly added that most people don’t truly understand these technologies, which in turn leads to many misunderstandings.

“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,” lead researcher Dr. Michelle Meyer reportedly said.

(Source: Daily Mail)

There’s also concern about the ethical implications of producing designer babies. Is it fair to the child, for example, to have his/her destiny predetermined like this? Also, what about the prospect of would-be parents trying to pick and choose attributes based on race, gender, etc.?

As for Smigrodzki, he’s not as worried about such issues.

“Part of that duty [of a parent] is to make sure to prevent disease — that’s why we give vaccinations. And the polygenic testing is no different. It’s just another way of preventing disease,” he told Bloomberg.


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Vivek Saxena


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