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Biotech Science

Personal Genomics Firm 23andMe Patents Designer Baby System 171

Posted by timothy
from the not-creepy-at-all dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Consumer genomics company 23andMe has developed a system for helping prospective parents choose the traits of their offspring, from disease risk to hair color. The patent — number 8543339, "Gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations" — describes a technology that would take a customer's preferences for a child's traits, compute the likely genomic outcomes of combinations between a customer's sperm or egg and other people's sex cells, and describe which potential reproductive matches would most likely produce the desired baby."
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Personal Genomics Firm 23andMe Patents Designer Baby System

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  • by nitzmahone (164842) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:55PM (#45026485)

    Hmm, sounds like the logical next step is a dating service to match those traits. Who's doing the cyber-squatting for 23harmony.com and eugenicsmingle.com?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Strong independent SWF seeks SWM to usher in new era of Aryan dominance with a horde of genetically superior children.

      XOXO White power! XOXO

    • Don't they already have a bunch of essentially-eugenics-based dating sites, just without the pretense of understanding the genetic basis?

      I'm pretty sure I've seen one for Ivy grads only, at least one for PhDs only, 'Aryan' white power enthusiasts only, does Mensa have one?

      Really, the only novelty here is pretending that (outside of a few specific cases that are either trivially mendellian or of interest because they are connected to ghastly diseases), looking at your genes, rather than at you, is actu
      • does Mensa have one?

        Mensa is one.

        Many people join to meet intelligent people of the opposite gender.

        • by AuMatar (183847) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:36PM (#45027029)

          And come away very disappointed. I tried that in my 20s, I found a bunch of 50 year old women, and 1 or 2 15 year olds. Nothing in between.

          • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:51PM (#45027239) Homepage

            I've never seen the appeal of Mensa.

            It sounds like being in a room full of people like the Comic Book Guy from Simpsons who like to stand around and feel self superior, when in actuality they're a bunch of complete wankers looking for validation.

            Certainly the only people I've ever met who claimed to be members were best described like that.

            • Well, there's some selection bias in the sample, where you've got only the people who would brag about things in the first place, but I'd bet it's not too biased.

          • by tgd (2822)

            And come away very disappointed. I tried that in my 20s, I found a bunch of 50 year old women, and 1 or 2 15 year olds. Nothing in between.

            Plus, generally speaking, its not all that hard to get into Mensa. Maybe harder than to get into the cub scouts or something, but its not rocket science... so the people who end up in there tend to be a lot less intelligent than they want to believe they are, or have crushing self doubt and are looking for validation. In either case, unless you happen to be one of those, too, not a good way to meet people.

            • by gstoddart (321705)

              Plus, generally speaking, its not all that hard to get into Mensa.

              Hmmm ... given that their aim is to get people in the 98th percentile, they're looking for the top 2% of IQs. So not exactly easy.

              Not all that hard if you're a) one of those people, b) give a shit, and c) want to hang out with other people like that.

              so the people who end up in there tend to be a lot less intelligent than they want to believe they are, or have crushing self doubt and are looking for validation

              Can't disagree there.

              • What useful function can the 98th percentile accomplish from this association? What does Mensa actually do?
                • by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:32PM (#45027877) Homepage

                  What happened to live and let live?

                  It's just a club, like a club for stamp collectors (or whatever).

                  Mensa might not sound useful to you, but they obviously think it is or they wouldn't be paying membership fees.

                  (And remember: They're smarter than you...)

                  • by metlin (258108) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @03:00PM (#45028255) Journal

                    (And remember: They're smarter than you...)

                    By one measure of intelligence. I've done pretty well in most standardized and IQ tests, and yet, in many instances, my intelligence is more analytical than anything else. When it comes to other areas, I know I am sorely lacking.

                    In contrast, I know people (e.g. musicians) who intuitively process music theory (or even math), people whose reflexes in sports are miles ahead of my own (to predict where a ball may be and how quickly you can intercept it is also a form of intelligence), and people who can read emotions extremely well and manipulate them.

                    So, yeah, while people who belong to Mensa may be smart in some areas, I would question the blanket statement that they are "smarter than you" (i.e. the general populace).

                  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 04, 2013 @01:36AM (#45032993)

                    I took one of the (free) tests to evaulate my suitability for MENSA (I was curious).

                    I received a letter back from them informing me that I was probably in the top two percentile as far as IQ scores went, but to confirm they'd need me to sit a more exacting test, which would only set me back £150.

                    At that point I decided to use my superior intelligence to spend the money on beer instead.

                • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @03:04PM (#45028339) Homepage

                  What useful function can the 98th percentile accomplish from this association? What does Mensa actually do?

                  At the end of the day, it's essentially a social club like the Rotary Club or the Knights of Columbus. It's just a self-selected group based on a specific set of criteria.

                  To the best of my knowledge, Mensa hasn't collectively gotten together to 'do' anything like solving specific problems.

                  More like get together for cocktails, and discuss the semantic differences between a canape and an hors d'ouevre, and other such fascinating trivia.

                  If they were children, there would be a club house and a sign saying "no X allowed". Other than that, I'm sure people will tell you how awesome it is and all the good they do -- and those people will likely be members.

              • Not all that hard if you're a) one of those people, b) give a shit, and c) want to hang out with other people like that.

                Whenever I think of Mensa, I always think of the Groucho Marx quote "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member", and Bill Hicks' bit [youtube.com] about the People Who Hate People Party.

        • Too bad there aren't people in it who are intelligent enough to realize that joining Mensa is silly and pointless, or I might sign up!

          • Too bad there aren't people in it who are intelligent enough to realize that joining Mensa is silly and pointless, or I might sign up!

            It is just some people getting together for some social interaction. Why is that "silly and pointless"? You sound bitter. Did they reject you?

            • Nope never applied, it just seems silly. It's like a Club of Certified Badasses. What kind of badass needs to join that to feel validated?

    • "Hmm, sounds like the logical next step is a dating service to match those traits. Who's doing the cyber-squatting for 23harmony.com and eugenicsmingle.com?"

      It really does look to me like it should have failed the obviousness test.

  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:57PM (#45026515) Homepage

    See many a SciFi novel.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      Patents do not cover mere ideas, but rather specific implementations. Find a sci-fi novel that uses exactly the same procedure 23andMe does, describing in detail all of the mechanisms and processes used, and that might be prior art.

      The point of "prior art" isn't to stop inventors from using old ideas. Rather, it's to stop inventors from copying existing technology exactly.

      • Re:Prior art (Score:4, Interesting)

        by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:24PM (#45026895) Homepage

        Ah, but the question is do these guys actually have a specific implementation?

        Or is this a business process patent disguised as a specific implementation?

        I don't know enough about the state of genetics to know if they can do this or not. But so many patents are just bafflegab intended to make it look like you've solved a problem -- when in fact you've just enumerated some of the things you'd need and don't have a way of doing it.

        The devil is in the details, and I'm skeptical they have anything more than a series of whitepapers detailing how you'd go about it.

        • by Sarten-X (1102295)

          But so many patents are just bafflegab intended to make it look like you've solved a problem -- when in fact you've just enumerated some of the things you'd need and don't have a way of doing it.

          There's actually very few patents like this, as such scams are usually pretty easy to see in patent applications. There are, however, a lot of folks on Slashdot who don't understand patent law, don't bother trying to understand the actual patent, and just accept an inflammatory headline as fact.

          That said, enumerations are patentable, if they're complete enough that someone could build a working system from the patent description (and reasonable skill in the art) alone. Since algorithms aren't patentable, an

  • Francis Galton [wikipedia.org] came up with this idea over a hundred years ago. It wasn't a good idea then, it still isn't.
    • Francis Galton [wikipedia.org] came up with this idea over a hundred years ago. It wasn't a good idea then, it still isn't.

      Well, that's the ugly trick. Humans have been using selective breeding on various organisms for most of recorded history, and it works just fine*

      If eugenics were simply hanging out with phlogiston and luminiferous aether on the failed ideas pile, nobody would care very much. What gives it continued edgy relevance is the fact that, possibly through a willingness to break a few eggs, possibly through more human measures, it should actually be doable to make even more of a mockery of the idea that 'all men

      • Existent and functional is the same as ethical, huh? So shooting you in the head shouldn't be a problem because physics tells us the momentum transfer from the bullet to your gray matter is a completely natural physical reaction.

        • Maybe I didn't make my point sufficiently clear: The fact that it does work is why it still makes the ethicists nervous. If it were quaint nonsense, nobody would care.

          To adopt your hypothetical scenario, people would get worked up if you shot me; because bullets work just fine. That's why we still argue about who you are and aren't allowed to put them into. If you were casting hexes at me, though, you'd be largely ignored because nobody would consider you a real threat.

          That's the kind of efficacy I'm
    • by tgd (2822)

      Francis Galton [wikipedia.org] came up with this idea over a hundred years ago. It wasn't a good idea then, it still isn't.

      Its not Eugenics. All of evolution happens because of trait preference. Eugenics is the trimming of less desirous genetic traits through sterilization (preventing a new generation) or more direct ending of the current one. Picking traits isn't that. People who seek out companions of their race, or their ethnicity, or with ripped abs or big boobs are all selecting for traits in the next generation. Or, as another modern example -- China's allowing of a second (or third) child( for couples with graduate degre

      • Eugenics is the theory and practice of improving the genetic quality of the human population. In the 20th century we didn't have genetically altered humans, so the only way to do it was to make some humans not reproduce, either by sterilization or murder. Now we are adding a new scientific option, but the end result is the same, only living humans that we consider 'perfect'. Humans need diversity, in the future there may be good reasons to keep about populations with traits we don't agree with now.
        • by tgd (2822)

          Eugenics is the theory and practice of improving the genetic quality of the human population. In the 20th century we didn't have genetically altered humans, so the only way to do it was to make some humans not reproduce, either by sterilization or murder. Now we are adding a new scientific option, but the end result is the same, only living humans that we consider 'perfect'. Humans need diversity, in the future there may be good reasons to keep about populations with traits we don't agree with now.

          In the sense that anyone means when talking about Eugenics, its "sterilization or murder" not "improving the genetic quality of the human population".

          And, its pretty safe to say the vast majority of the moral outrage was because of the sterilization and murder, not the concept of improving humanity.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hitler would be proud. Once this can be done on a regular basis, the differences between the born-privileged (children born to parents with money to custom design their child to have movie-star looks and high IQ) will relegate the masses to a modern serfdom.

    • Are you suggesting that we need knowledge of genetics to relegate the masses to modern serfdom?

      Challenge accepted.
    • by tgd (2822)

      Hitler would be proud. Once this can be done on a regular basis, the differences between the born-privileged (children born to parents with money to custom design their child to have movie-star looks and high IQ) will relegate the masses to a modern serfdom.

      Hitler wasn't selecting for an Aryan nation. He was killing for an Aryan nation. So that's really a poor example.

      And here's a secret -- children of the privileged already (and have always) had that benefit. The wealthy and successful rarely have children with sloth like troglodytes -- they meet people of similar educational, physical, economic and other qualities. They don't send their children to a random selection of schools. Their children, more often than not, end up equally successful and privileged.

      An

  • I had a horrifying vision of hundreds of preschool age clones of Giorgio Armani complete with graying hair and Speedos.

    http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/wkXX8i-_YY7/Giorgio+Armani+Beach+Spain/o9t_26CJhk8/Giorgio+Armani [zimbio.com]

  • This is pretty much a patent on the math for matching between genome expressions. That is pretty much pure math which they have wrapped into an interface.

    The patent system continues to fail.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      Mechanical engineering produces patents on the math for physics. That is pretty much pure math which they have wrapped in a physical form.

      The patent system has "failed" by this definition since its inception.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sci-fi has seen this coming since at least 1997, with film Gattaca...
    Plot summary source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119177/plotsummary

    Excerpt: "Gattaca Corp. is an aerospace firm in the future. During this time society analyzes your DNA and determines where you belong in life. Ethan Hawke's character was born with a congenital heart condition which would cast him out of getting a chance to travel in space"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      and... "Vincent is one of the last "natural" babies born into a sterile, genetically-enhanced world, where life expectancy and disease likelihood are ascertained at birth. Myopic and due to die at 30, he has no chance of a career in a society that now discriminates against your genes, instead of your gender, race or religion. "

      • I love that movie, but every time I hear him talking about his heart and how it's supposed to fail at some point and he talking to Uma Thurman and says "but mine is 30,000 beats overdue." I can't help but do the math and think, "oh, he was supposed to die earlier that morning?"

        30,000 beats / 60 bpm = 500 min = 8 hours 18 min.

        Sometimes I hate my brain.

  • by ScottCooperDotNet (929575) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:05PM (#45026653)

    I imagine most readers are worried about super-strength people [nbcnews.com], but on a more practical basis, this could be used to prevent genetic predisposition to disease, like breast cancer gene carriers being able to ensure their child won't be carriers of the gene, or even the mentally ill from passing on genes related to say, schizophrenia.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:16PM (#45026807) Homepage

      It COULD be used to screen for undesirable traits (but that's eugenics), it WILL be used to screen for 'desirable' traits - that's money.

      • 'Eugenics' is a poisoned word, if they go that way it will surely be called something else.

      • It COULD be used to screen for undesirable traits (but that's eugenics)

        if eugenics means eliminating debilitating genetic disorders then i'm in. when you get mutations in the standard code that defines us as humans, you get serious health problems.

        it WILL be used to screen for 'desirable' traits - that's money.

        unless you are choosing really simple traits like hair and eye color, you are going to have to wait until we figure out how our DNA really works. there are a ton of changes that occur just for things like height which we still dont fully understand. genetic testing for traits gives results in probability based on their pool of kno

    • by jsepeta (412566)

      no need for Cerebro, if we focus on making Homo Superiors instead of those lowly Homo Sapiens

    • by cHALiTO (101461)

      Actually, I was thinking that if people get to choose how their kids will look.. imagine would fads play into this. When a particular set of attributes become the most popular and a high percentage of the population decide to have offspring that have almost the same characteristics.. I don't know, couldn't it be pretty dangerous, messing around like that with genetic diversity?

      Obviously, I'm not a biologist :P

    • Often overlooked is that Khan, like Napoleon, was a failure. For all their supposed superiority, they were defeated in the end.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Gattaca, like 1984, was intended to be a warning rather than an instruction manual. We seem to be slouching towards various forms of dystopia and the worst part of it all is that people think this is a good thing.

    • by alen (225700)

      if this were to implemented on a national scale what would be so bad about screening out for all the different genetic diseases and whatever?

      people already do this to some extent and have done so throughout history. those with money have always had access to better food and health care and trying to make sure their kids marry into other families with money

  • Finally! Now nerds can design the perfect baby they have no chance of planting in a chick's belly.

  • will be used mostly to select sex of baby's
  • by Prune (557140) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:21PM (#45026853)
    This needs to be regulated because the result of many people individually selecting for characteristics can have negative effects on the overall human gene pool. I've already elaborated on this under another recent story: http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=4173815&cid=44775829 [slashdot.org]
    • Some babies of rich people are going to have a lower incidence of certain cancers and fewer traits considered undesirable.

      You know how everyone is always complaining that it seems that stupid ugly people are having all the babies? Well, that is not going to stop because a few rich people want to have some particular traits in their children.

      Teenagers have been doing there part to make sure we have a 'diverse' gene pool and will certainly continue the practice despite distopian plans by their parents to crea

      • by Prune (557140)
        False analogy, because one of these things has to do with the availability of potential mates to different sociodemographic categories, whereas the other one has to do with access to genetic screening and engineering technology. The difference is, that although there is significant overlap now between the categories best advantaged in each of these contexts, that will change as the price of the latter falls due to sci-tech progress, bringing it to the masses over a couple of decades. On the other hand, in t
  • "Uh, yes, I would like a sickly, blind, deaf, mentally disabled child, so I can collect its disability benefits... make it twins, conjoined twins, triplets if you can pull it off."

    • It's more that you *have* to choose disease risks. This isn't engineering a baby's genome from scratch -- it's just a matching system between potential gametes.

      For example, if you're a woman looking to have a child via artificial insemination, then this system will let you profile the risks and rewards of using different donor sperm with your own eggs. All of these genomes (and your own) carry defective genes. So, do you want the donor with a high IQ and arthritis or the one with good looks and a high ri

  • A precursor to Gattaca, maybe?
  • Birds do it, bees do it
    Even educated fleas do it

    Let's do it
    Let's compute the genomic outcomes of combinations which would most likely produce the desired baby
  • I believe it is called, "dating".

  • by wjcofkc (964165) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:28PM (#45027815)
    Just wait until a genomics company literally owns your baby's genome configuration. Almost no one takes the time to read terms of service. Imagine being under the pressure of signing such an agreement after your water breaks.

    The very last part of that being unlikely - the patent part may not be. Imagine choosing from a selection of perfect but generic templates, then adding and remove traits as you see fit. We could end up with a large population of near twin sets.

    Setting absolutely all of that aside, if the technology this evolves into could build a better human (post-human?) species, I'm all for it regardless of how strange a future it might produce. Can you imagine a future version of the human race absent of our desire to break up into factions and murder each other in as large of numbers as possible? This could result in the survival of our species, or at least a future iteration of our species, which is something that I otherwise think will prove unlikely over the next century if we don't find a way to evolve past being bent on self-annihilation.
    • by PRMan (959735)
      We fight most against the people most like ourselves...
      • by wjcofkc (964165)
        Most often it's: His god fights your god while his god protects his nation. Your god and and his god will fight until annihilation.

        Of course their are purely political ideological matters too. I'm taking about removing the genes that cause the extreme aggression towards one another. We have created a modern world while managing to remain primitive creatures. it's unsustainable if we don't stop killing each other whether it be on small or mass scales. We are natural predators bound by evolution to be instin
    • Just wait until a genomics company literally owns your baby's genome configuration. Almost no one takes the time to read terms of service. Imagine being under the pressure of signing such an agreement after your water breaks.

      Won't ever happen, at least in the reasonably near term. We're not exactly sure what an individual's genome actually is. It's becoming apparent that we have several various 'genotypes' in an individual. So, the least of our worries is that Monsanto or Oracle will have some legal claim to your progeny.

      The very last part of that being unlikely - the patent part may not be. Imagine choosing from a selection of perfect but generic templates, then adding and remove traits as you see fit. We could end up with a large population of near twin sets.

      See above. We aren't there by any stretch of the imagination. The numbers 23andme will give you are going to be estimates, not real values. But it's something to think about in the longer term.

      Setting absolutely all of that aside, if the technology this evolves into could build a better human (post-human?) species, I'm all for it regardless of how strange a future it might produce. Can you imagine a future version of the human race absent of our desire to break up into factions and murder each other in as large of numbers as possible? This could result in the survival of our species, or at least a future iteration of our species, which is something that I otherwise think will prove unlikely over the next century if we don't find a way to evolve past being bent on self-annihilation.

      We're more

  • by arthurpaliden (939626) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:36PM (#45027931)
    I can site several thousand years of prior art here. It is called animal breeding.
  • The wonderful world of GATTACA is coming. For those that didn't see the movie this is the future where those people that are conceived naturally will be the new underclass and the test tube babies will be the new professional class. Your new resume is nothing more than a DNA sample and based off of the traits you were engineered for determines your line of work. Your parents will chose your profession type for you and you will be engineered with those traits that will be an asset to that kind of profess
  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @02:51PM (#45028141)

    I'm going to file a patent for a method for randomizing all options when deciding what you want in a baby. Just pick an egg at random, mix in a bunch of sperm, and you get a Random Baby. Don't worry about license fees, though. I'm not greedy. Anyone who uses this method will only need to pay me $1. What's that? This is so broad that it covers natural conception? Well, waddaya know. Now pay up!

    One dollar per baby born times about 4 million babies born every year in the US = instant retirement!

  • This is exactly the same as what they show in the movie Gattaca from 1999. How the hell was this patent granted?
  • by InfiniteLoopCounter (1355173) on Friday October 04, 2013 @12:12AM (#45032735)

    brother who is part horse and a sister that is part cat? Can I, p-l-e-a-s-e?

  • Not sure I want a version 1.0 designer baby.

    But really, while I don't agree that buying a baby with specific beauty and vanity traits is the right application of this area of science, selecting an embryo that doesn't have some trait that will have a kid grow up with a hump or other genetic defect should be allowed. While many will scream abortion!, realize that 4 - 8 cells is not a sentient lifeform no matter how far you stretch your faith.

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