Human genome sequencing and designer babies

Human genome sequencing and designer babies

K I Woo
Dec 14, 2015

The majority of births in the next three to four decades will feature in-vitro fertilization and whole genome sequencing culminating years of scientific and health care-industry collaborations.

Recently, Hank Greeley, Stanford Center for Law’s director, often referred to as the godfather of genetics and biological sciences told the San Francisco Chronicle said that in the future embryos will be generated directly through adult skin cells using induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC).

"It would be trivially harmful, painless and much more reliable," Greely said.

Broad implications

The newly developed processes will allow couples to have their own genetic children through producing gametes from their own skin cells.

"The biological clock could even disappear," Greely said. "A 70-year-old woman could have a child as easily as a 5-year-old through the use of their skin cells."

Genome sequencing role

Today’s genome sequencing advances, Greely said already allow couples to detect serious diseases such as Tay-sach, cystic fibrosis, down syndrome and hemophilia by weeding out genetically defective embryos in preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) procedures that are now common in Bangkok.

PGD is used during IVF (in-vitro fertilization) procedures to test embryos for genetic disorders before insertion into a women’s uterus. Once the egg is fertilized, a cell from each embryo is taken and examined under a microscope for genetic disorders

In the near future, people will be able to detect the early onset of diseases such as Parkinsons, Huntingtons and color-blindness, to cosmetic preferences, behavioral traits such as intelligence, personality and social comfort, to gender.
Socio-political and ethical issues

When huge amounts of our populations participate in IVF and whole genome sequencing, genetic engineering socio-political and issues begin appearing.

Doctors today are able to examine the cells to determine the gender of the embryo. In many countries such as the US, when a family has a history of hemophilia, only female embryos are selected to be placed in the uterus.

Greely argues that these people are not engaging in genetic engineering.

“You are limited by what you bring to the table, or the petri dish….. You’re not going to get superman, you’re going to get slightly healthier kids."

Fundamentally moral

Couple that use IVF and whole genome sequencing to produce healthier children, Greely believes are doing something fundamentally moral.

“We should do what we can to relieve human suffering. And one aspect of human suffering is that there are people who want to have babies who cannot.”

Germline modification

Gene editing of embryos has been lauded by many scientists because it could eradicate devastating genetic diseases before a baby is born.

However, other scientists fear that such work crosses ethical lines because genetic embryo changes, known as germline modifications, are heritable and could have unpredictable effects on future generations.

Germline therapy is already used on animals. Genetic changes may not show up immediately, but may show up in later generations.

Consequently, many researchers fear gene editing research may be a slippery slope toward unethical uses.

Optimizing offspring intelligence

Recently, Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico explained how germline modification could in the future potentially allow couples to maximize their offspring’s intelligence.

Couples can maximize their children’s offspring by selecting among their own fertilized eggs, ones with the likelihood of the highest intelligence.

“This method of pre-implementation embryo selection might allow IQ within every family to increase by five to 15 IQ points per generation.”

Fears of Chinese eugenics

Although most scientists agree that human genome sequencing and creating more intelligent offspring is still a long way away, China’s BGI is raising fears with its cognitive genome project.

BGI, the largest genetic sequencing center in the world, with more than 4,000 scientists, is completing a three million genome project that will sequence the DNA of one million people, one million microorganisms and one million plants and organisms.

“After a couple of generations, it could be game over for Western global competitiveness,” Miller theorized.

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