On September 24, genetic testing company 23AndMe was awarded United States patent number 8,543,339 for “gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations.” The idea behind the patent is that 23AndMe can test each parent for physical traits or probability for particular diseases, and then choose which genes to give the baby. This means that if one parent’s family is prone to type II diabetes, but the other parent is not, 23AndMe can choose for the baby to have the gene from the parent who is not prone to diabetes. The same process can apply to physical characteristics as well – parents can choose their baby’s eye or hair color based on the genes from both parents.
In addition to simply choosing from the genes of the two parents, 23AndMe is hoping to have a high-quality donor gene pool so parents can create the ideal “designer baby.” If both parents are prone to diabetes, 23AndMe can simply select genes from their donor pool to ensure the baby will not be prone to diabetes. In addition, parents can also select for their child to have blonde hair – even if both parents are brunette.
Although it sounds like a great idea to be able to “engineer” the ideal baby, many genetics experts are wary. Being able to choose the exact genes a baby will have removes the randomness that is childbirth. In addition, many religious experts are questioning whether this is ethical and if the parents are “questioning God” by giving their babies genes to avoid disease. Even still, this is a great way to cure genetic diseases, create variety, and ensure a healthy baby. Nowadays, most people have brown eyes and dark hair because those genes are naturally dominant. Green eyes and blonde hair have become rare, so allowing parents to give their baby a certain color eyes is groundbreaking.
This technology still has a long way to go, but the framework and patent are both there. It will be interesting to see in the coming years how “designer babies” show up in the news.