Using skin cells, parents may soon be able to choose their designer babies with agreeable traits and features.
Within 20 years sex could just become a pastime as women use non-invasive medical procedures to choose their desirable baby with a fine tuned DNA free from genetic diseases, according to a Stanford geneticist.
Daily Mail reports:
An expert on the ethics of genetics at Stanford University has claimed humans may be on the cusp of a monumental change in the way we breed, using laboratories rather than the bedroom to create children.
Professor Hank Greely argues that couples will use genetic material from a few skin cells to create eggs which will then be fertilised using sperm samples taken from the prospective father.
The procedure will allow parents to effectively ‘design’ their babies by selecting the one they want from 100 or so embryos created in this way.
The vision sounds like something from science fiction films like Gattaca, where genetic selection is used to produce children with idealised traits.
According to The Times, Professor Greely said: ‘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 will very severe, untreatable, nasty diseases.
‘This will affect one to two per cent 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 behavioural – I think here information will be limited.’
Professor Greely outlines his vision of the future in his book The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction.
He argues that stem cell technology already makes it possible to do much of what he has outlined.
Genetic tests are already used to pinpoint certain conditions in embryos used in IVF procedures and the growing understanding of the genome is extending this all the time.
Scientists have also shown it is possible to grow reproductive cells like eggs and sperm in the laboratory using stem cells.
Professor Greely says using a combination of cloning and stem cell technologies it may be possible to save women from the invasive procedures needed to harvest eggs for IVF.
Instead genetic material could be removed from a skin cell – taken from the woman’s body – and then used to create stem cells.
These can then be encouraged to grow into eggs that can then be fertilised using conventional IVF techniques.
Developments in preimplantation genetic diagnosis would allow prospective parents to pick the embryo that most suits the traits they desire while also being disease free.
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis was first used more than 25 years ago and the list of conditions it can be used to identify is growing.
Professor Greely says parents advances in this technology is leading to what he calls ‘easy preimplantation genetic diagnosis’. This will make sexless reproduction cheaper and easier than more traditional methods.
He says that while such procedures could be expensive, it could ultimately save society huge sums by effectively eliminating serious genetic diseases.
This could lead many to consider babies creating using old-fashioned sex as irresponsible.
But the technology could also bring serious ethical problems.
Many people are opposed to using genetic techniques to select ‘designer babies’ and compare it to playing God.
Professor Greely added: ‘What if a woman decided to make eggs from herself and sperm from herself, and then transfer them to her own uterus?
‘I don’t think many people would do that, but it’s a big world.’
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