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Biotech Science

Designer Babies 902

Posted by samzenpus
from the wings-and-a-nice-prehensile-tail dept.
Singularity Hub writes "The Fertility Institutes recently stunned the fertility community by being the first company to boldly offer couples the opportunity to screen their embryos not only for diseases and gender, but also for completely benign characteristics such as eye color, hair color, and complexion. The Fertility Institutes proudly claims this is just the tip of the iceberg, and plans to offer almost any conceivable customization as science makes them available. Even as couples from across the globe are flocking in droves to pay the company their life's savings for a custom baby, opponents are vilifying the company for shattering moral and ethical boundaries. Like it or not, the era of designer babies is officially here and there is no going back."
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Designer Babies

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  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:10PM (#26991931) Homepage Journal

    Although there certainly is a lot of "fashion" and "tradition" in choosing names, it's hardly the nightmare of uniformity that is predicted by those who oppose genetic choice. Sometimes it might appear that everyone is named Steve, but alas, it is not so.

    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:17PM (#26992025) Homepage Journal

      Although there certainly is a lot of "fashion" and "tradition" in choosing names, it's hardly the nightmare of uniformity that is predicted by those who oppose genetic choice. Sometimes it might appear that everyone is named Steve, but alas, it is not so.

      Nice straw man you got there.

      The truth is that names hardly matter that much compared to your child's physiology and anatomy. In some countries, it's not uncommon for parents to kill girls that are born to them because they cannot carry on the family name, so to speak.

       

      • by saleenS281 (859657) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:40PM (#26992287) Homepage
        Name your daughter "prostitute", and let me know how she fairs elementary and jr. high.

        Names most definitely CAN play a VERY important role in a child's life.
      • by p0tat03 (985078) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @01:26AM (#26993949)

        In some countries, it's not uncommon for parents to kill girls that are born to them because they cannot carry on the family name, so to speak.

        Nice straw man YOU got there.

        There's a difference between infanticide (i.e. killing someone) vs. designer babies (i.e. preventing a hypothetical person from existing). By your logic it's also abhorrent for people carrying genetically transmission illnesses to abstain from having children.

    • by Lord Kano (13027) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:46PM (#26992391) Homepage Journal

      The problem with "genetic choice" is that we haven't been around long enough to know the purpose of all of our traits. If enough people were to, for example, not pass on the sicle cell trait who's to say that humanity won't be wiped out by a malaria epidemic? Of course, that's an outlandish scenario, but it's meant to raise a point not prove one. We just don't know why humanity comes in all of our different variations. It's a dangerous game to start removing traits artificially.

      LK

      • by jayhawk88 (160512) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Thursday February 26, 2009 @12:08AM (#26993317)

        One only has to look at what breeders have done to pure breed dogs over the years to know this is a horrendously bad idea.

        • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @12:41AM (#26993627)

          But, do you blame the breeders or the dog shows? I know some working class breeders have fought AKC recognition knowing that over time they'd end up with very pretty but very incompetent training stock.

          If dog shows for working breeds were performance-based, you'd have breeders working towards the betterment of the breed rather than appearance.

          I bought a husky about 10 years ago from a breeder who was a recently retired sled dog racer. Ten years later I went back to her for another puppy and her dogs were very pretty, but not at all trained or bred for racing.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Muad'Dave (255648)

            In a way, dog breeding is all about performance. Dogs in AKC-recognized shows are _not_ judged on how pretty they are. Each dog is judged against the official, written physical standard for that particular breed, not how well they're groomed or how cute they are. If you've ever wondered how a judge can compare dogs of different breeds in the group competition, that's how; the dog that best meets its standard wins.

            Of course since the judges are human, grooming or cuteness sometimes plays a part, but not usua

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:13PM (#26991965)

    I like how the summary says that the "designer baby" era is here despite the fact that, hey, we can't actually customize babies yet.

  • by oldspewey (1303305) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:14PM (#26991991)
    Just as we've found that the ecosphere is an uncontrollably complex system that defies simple cause/effect manipulation, we will learn the hard way that simply "inserting" a gene for blue eyes or increased hemoglobin production causes unexpected and undesirable spinoff effects.
    • by mysidia (191772) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:19PM (#26992059)

      They're not "inserting" a gene. They're screening out "candidate" babies that don't have it.

      I.e. there are lots of embryos, they pick the one that randomly got the characteristics they want and throw out the rest.

      However, there can still be unintended consequences. If people do this a lot and tend to make the same choices, the genetic diversity of the human race will be reduced, leading to greater susceptibility to widespread disease and genetic problems in the generations to come.

      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:33PM (#26992227)

        If people do this a lot and tend to make the same choices, the genetic diversity of the human race will be reduced, leading to greater susceptibility to widespread disease and genetic problems in the generations to come.

        They're not choosing on the vast majority of the genes in the human genome. Your hair color, for example, doesn't really confer any selective advantage when it comes to resitance to infectious disease. Diversity, even among those superficial genes, also probably won't be lost. A lot of the genes people want to select for are already rare, if this catches on I'd expect red-headedness to increase dramatically (its at something like 1% right now). And there's going to be some auto-balancing anyway: if everyone wants to have blue-eyed blond-haired children you know what's going to suddenly be a lot more attractive to that generation? Brown eyes and brown hair. And they'll select that in their children.

        Sky: still not falling.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          They're not choosing on the vast majority of the genes in the human genome. Your hair color, for example, doesn't really confer any selective advantage when it comes to resitance to infectious disease. Diversity, even among those superficial genes, also probably won't be lost

          Wait, do you have some insight into genetics that you've been holding out from the rest of the world? Or are you trying to say that because we have only found one purpose for a given gene means that there must only be one purpose?

  • by iminplaya (723125) <iminplaya.gmail@com> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:18PM (#26992037) Journal

    I want mine to look like Alice

  • by tsa (15680) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:18PM (#26992043) Homepage

    Even if it may be inhuman, unethical or whatever, people will want this. It's a new step in human evolution. There is a plus on the ethical side of this: many genetic diseases can hopefully be prevented.

    • by elashish14 (1302231) <profcalc4&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:32PM (#26992203)

      Remember when antibiotics were developed and they were hailed as the great solution for bacterial infections? Now look what has happened - yes, we've solved some problems (many, even), but we've made others much worse.

      So let's take a minute to think of the can of worms that we're opening. 1.) How are we supposed to determine whether something is a disease and whether it should be screened for? 2.) What if there's some genetic/evolutionary advantage to many of the "diseases" we hope to prevent? Obviously, no one wants to stand up and say that there's an advantage to -insert horrible disease here- but it's impossible to predict the future and what may be advantageous. 3.) We're also bound to get idiots that want their kids screened for stupid things like being short or stupid. There's probably a potential danger in this as well, not to mention that it's stupid.

      Anyways, as far as treating diseases go, we should be mindful that if we don't want to mess with the gene pool (as many believe that we shouldn't), we should consider non-genetic alternatives to treating problems. Furthermore, we should be excited with the advent of new technology, but we should be very careful in how we employ it (in particular, how much). These aren't necessarily my opinions, but it's important to at least play Devil's Advocate.

  • Life savings? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:19PM (#26992049) Homepage Journal

    as couples from across the globe are flocking in droves to pay the company their life's savings for a custom baby

    It saddens me to think that so many people are that shallow. It no longer surprises me that people would risk their financial stability to have a baby with a particular hair color. But it does still depress me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cowlum1 (685203)

      As some earlier posters have pointed out, this is a good opportunity for couples to diagnose and remove genetic diseases. Many families have known genetic ailments they would like eradicated.

      Hair colour and eye colour are often advantages/disadvantages in life. Shallow or not im sure most parents will simply do whats best for baby.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by twostix (1277166)

      I look forward to the ability to remove the ugly, awkward social misfit segment from society.

      It's bad news for Slashdots future though.

      Ironically it's the awkward social misfits who are the loudest proponents of this. Seems like tech is some sort of religion to them.

      "Yes Mr and Mrs Smith, your embryo has all the genes to ensure it will forever be a pseudo-intellectual, who will be quite ugly for their entire life, will never fit into greater society will have a miserable adolescence and although will be exc

  • China and India (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macraig (621737) <mark DOT a DOT craig AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:23PM (#26992095)

    They'll have a huge market in China and perhaps India. China has that history of euthanizing baby girls, so why waste the nine months if you can't get exactly what you want?

    Sorry, but this really freaks me. Now we're making a true commodity out of babies. In a way that actually cheapens them; they'll become mass-market items akin to cellphones, when we can pick and choose exactly what color, what "skin", we want them to have, what shape and size, what sort of CPU and accessories.

    Can you hear Darwin howling?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Who flagged this as insightful?

      If you don't want to "cheapen" your baby and make one the old-fashioned way, do it. If I want a redhead with green eyes, I'll do it. Who gives a shit? Suddenly having choice in something that used to be arbitrary is somehow bad now? Should we actually get to that level of customization it'll be an epoch of sorts and we'll either get through it or something will go terribly wrong. Life and the universe will go on.

      25,000 years from now there's bound to be a severe paradigm shift

  • by Taibhsear (1286214) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:07PM (#26992637)

    People already screen your embryos and sperm for certain genetic markers. It's not eugenics, it's called "dating."

  • Go watch GATTACA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HockeyPuck (141947) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:53PM (#26993139)

    Go watch the movie GATTACA http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119177/ [imdb.com] The basic premise is in the not too distant future a company has come up with a way for parents to determine all of the genetic qualities of the baby so that when the baby is born it is already determined what it will become/do in it's life based upon it's DNA. Prior to birth they know if you'll be a physician or a garbage man. "Natural" babies, those with no genetic selection are unheard of. The plot is a "natural" born character tries to fool the system into thinking he's got the DNA to be an astronaut...

    Interesting concept.

  • The Homosexual Gene (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spasmodeus (940657) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @12:09AM (#26993345)

    So, what happens when they find the genetic marker that indicates homosexuality?

    Will it be okay for parents to not select an embryo because he/she might grow up to be gay?

  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @12:56AM (#26993739)

    My wife and I couldn't come to an agreement on what color to paint the nursery. I wanted red and she wanted green. We got tired of arguing about it, so we finally agreed just to have a red-green color blind kid and tell him the room's purple.

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