Will “Designer” Babies Wind up Ending the Need for Sex to Conceive?

By Angela Sevin from SF Bay Area, US (sitting) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sex has play a key role in the evolution of life on Earth, it allows a mixture of genetic material to be inherited from one generation to the next. Almost every plant and animal on the planet uses sex to reproduce, could it be about to come to an end for one species, us?

New Study

An expert in the field of the ethics of genetics at Stanford University has claimed human beings might be on the verge of a monumental change in the way we reproduce, using laboratories instead of the bedroom to create babies.

Professor Hank Greely argues couples will use genetic material from a few skin cells to make eggs which can then be fertilized using sperm samples obtained from a prospective father.

The procedure would let parents to effectively “design” their future child by picking the one they want from 100 or more embryos created in this manner.

The vision sounds like something from a sci-fi, horror film such as Gattaca, where genetic selection is used to produce babies with the traits a parent desires.

According to The Times, Professor Greely stated, “In 20 to 40 years, when a couple wants a baby, he’ll provide sperm and she’ll provide a punch of skin. Parents will get the embryos grouped by categories. One category might be very severe, untreatable, nasty diseases.”

He further stated, “This will affect one to two percent of embryos. Another category will be other diseases. The third is cosmetic; hair, eyes, shape, whether the hair goes white early.”

“We don’t know much about this yet, but we will. A fourth category is behavioral- I think here information will be limited.”

Professor Greely outlined his vision for the future in his book entitled “The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction.”

He argues that stem cell technology already makes it possible to achieve much of what he has outlined.
Genetic testing is already used to pinpoint certain medical conditions in embryos used during IVF procedures and the growing understanding of the genome is extending all the time.

Scientists have also proven it is possible to grow reproductive cells like eggs and sperm in the lab using stem cells.

Professor Greely states using a combination of cloning and stem cell technologies may make it possible to save women from invasive procedures necessary to harvest eggs. Instead, genetic material may be removed from a skin cell obtained from a woman’s body and then used to make stem cells.
These cells can then be encouraged to grow into eggs that might be fertilized using conventional IVF.
Developments in preimplantation genetic diagnosis would let prospective parents to choose the embryo that most suits the traits they want, while also being free from defects or diseases.

Closing

While the new technology is innovative and could lead to breakthroughs in reproductive medicine, there are also ethical issues involved.
Some people are against using genetic techniques to select “designer” babies and compare it to playing God.

Professor Greely added in closing, “What if a woman decided to make eggs from herself and sperm from herself, and then transferred them to her own uterus? I don’t think many people would do that, but it’s a big world.”


 
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