Discussion

{DISCUSSION} Designer Babies

Should genetic engineering of babies be allowed?

Last week, my laboratory building hosted a for vs against discussion regarding genetic engineering. In particular it was about genetically altering children before they are born, which is the topic I will focus on for today: altering the genes of children before they are born.

I know there are going to be TONS of opinions on this matter and I ask everyone to be respectful in voicing your opinions on discussing with others.

Preface: I am a scientist. In fact, I am a geneticist according to my degree. I have a better understanding than the average person regarding this technology and its capabilities. That being said, just because this is my field, does not mean I support all advancements in my field.

1. First and foremost, everyone must understand that genetic engineering is possible.

There have been hundreds of advancements in this technology over decades and decades of work. We have adapted mechanisms of other organisms to use to our own advantage and to improve the state of the human race. As we have done for millennia. And genetic engineering is no different. Combine that with the ability to detect certain mutations that cause disease and we have the ability to prevent children from suffering from a debilitating disease.

Some people would call that amazing.
Others would say it’s wrong.

2. We do not know what all the genes in the human genome actually do.

This is a misnomer because people often hear that we have ‘sequenced the human genome.’ While this means we have the entire list of DNA in the human body (aka a 3,000 Mbp (mega base pairs or million base pairs) list comprised of only 4 letters), this does not mean we know what most of those combinations do. Therefore, we can (or more appropriately should) only edit genes that we understand (ie know the exact sequences of). In other words, genes related to disease are most commonly studied and would be the most likely/first to be altered.


There are ton of aspects to take into account when discussing altering the genomes of human beings, particularly unborn human beings. This list includes religion, trust in science, trust in medicine, personal beliefs, ethics, society, etc, etc. That being said, I will state my opinion on this topic in as unbiased, but scientific perspective as I can. aka the facts.


A. Genetic Disorders

Genetic engineering does have the potential to wipe out certain genetic disorders from the human population assuming the entire world were to adopt this practice. Many genetic disorders already come up during a pregnancy screen. Should genetic engineering be made legal and ethical, these genetic disorders could be removed from the population one at a time.

However.

Most disorders and other illnesses relating to genetics are based on mutations. While some mutations are induced, others are introduced into the human genome due to environmental factors, such as UV damage. UV radiation can damage the human genome and the repair processes many not be able to catch all of the damages or does not repair them properly, thus introducing a new mutation. For this reason, as a scientist, I don’t believe we will ever see a point in humanity’s future where all disease is eradicated.

B. Trait Selection

Many people discuss the potential of creating designer babies, selecting the hair color, eye color, skin color, nose size, height, build, intelligence, etc of your child through genetics. While some people believe this possible, it is unlikely to ever be fully accurate or predictable. Firstly, not all aspects of what makes up a human is based on genetics. There is still the age old debate of nature vs nurture and, as society and its opinion of beauty and intelligence change, so will the chosen traits change.

Additionally, selecting traits for children has the possibility of negatively impacting the future of the human race. Genetic mutations have occurred for thousands of years giving rise to a wide variety of people. This is natural selection and each of those people and their genetic background have become what they are due to generations of environmental and social selection. To override that could actually impede on our species ability to survive in an environment. It could potentially make us vulnerable to our ever changing environment, which could take us years, maybe generations to recover from.

Lastly, giving the parents of a child the ability to alter the child to their specifications could actually breakdown how we see child-parent relationships. Each child would be made to the parents’ specifications and if the child doesn’t agree with how their parents made them, there is an additional point of stress between the child and parents beyond the already added stress of authority and rules. More importantly, it’s impossible to dictate personality with genetics. Thus, even if the child looks exactly like the parents want, there is no guaranteeing the child will turn out the way the parents want and even if they did, what happens to autonomy of that child? When do they become their own person and not a manifestation of what their parents’ desires?


Now as I said, I could go on forever, but I don’t want to bog people down with too much information because this is a heavy topic full of science in a variety of backgrounds and ethics. (and this is particular passion topic of mine that I could rant about for DAYS!) But I am curious to know if other people have an opinion on this manner and, if so, what is your opinion? How did you come to formulate this opinion? I am excited to have this discussion! 😀

What do you think?
Should genes be altered?
Leave your thoughts below!


And check out my discussion from last week:
Importance of Reading

30 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Designer Babies”

  1. Very tough discussion! I don’t believe humans should be allowed to alter genes for trait selection. It feels like taking away a choice and playing around to try to make the “perfect child,” which just shouldn’t exist.

    I would like to see the advancement and possibilities of eradicating genetic disorders. Even if I were healthy enough to have a child, I would never allow myself to get pregnant because I would have to bring a child in to this world with the potential of developing type 1 diabetes like myself. Yes, it can be controlled, but it is a life long struggle that will always be life threatening. The possibility of eradicating that chance would be amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, the concept behind your first paragraph is that perfection doesn’t exist/is different for everyone. And with the way people prejudice against others just for how they look, I can only imagine what kind of crazy prejudices will exist in the future if this becomes a thing. o.o

      I completely agree with you. I think that it is okay to alter genomes for the sake of health struggles because many diseases are debilitating or end up killing a person much younger than we would expect. In those cases, I think it’s acceptable. Not everyone does though and some people will keep those genetic disorders in the population (often because of religious reasons or moral reasons.) So, I don’t honestly know if we could ever truly eradicate them, you know?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Melanie!
    I love this discussion topic! This is actually very relevant for me right now, since my current novel is about human genome editing.
    Personally, since we do have the technology for this, and since we are already doing this in plants and animals, I do forsee this coming up in the future for humans. As you mentioned, we do some genetic selection already: Clinics offer screening for genetic conditions like Down’s Syndrome and parents have the option to abort the child. Diseases like Huntington’s and Cystic Fibrosis are possibly fixable (I think they are caused by one or a few known genetic mutations) and preventing these illnesses can reduce health care spending and improve quality of life for many families.
    On the other hand, I do agree that we have to be cautious of the long-term impact of this technology. It is a good point you bring up regarding the parent-child relationship and the autonomy of the child, which I didn’t think about before.
    I believe that if this technology is implemented in the future, it should focus on addressing diseases that have negative impact on a child’s quality of life. Other features that are intended as “improvements” should be secondary (such as intelligence and eye colour). However I imagine that those who are rich will be able to pay for such improvements. It’s a slippery slope :’)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oo! Very interesting, Sophie! I’d love to hear more about your novel!

      Based on what I learned in my eukaryotic molecular genetics class this semester, we do know quite about regarding the mutations of many genetic disorders (though more money goes to researching cancer than heritable diseases, unfortunately.) Still, we could potentially correct the mutations that do cause a few disorders as of today. It would definitely improve quality of life and allow people to live longer, as cystic fibrosis (at least back in the day), was known for killing people in their teens. And Huntington’s I believe has a shortened lifespan as well.

      Oh yeah. It’s definitely a slipper slope and I don’t think the U.S. will be the first to join. (Actually, I believe I heard recently that China has already started treating people with genetically engineered cells.) And even if our particular country(s) don’t agree, those who want the changes can always go elsewhere to have them done. Once the technology exists, humanity generally ends up using it in the worst ways possible no matter what the original intention. (Kind of our m.o. as a species. :/ )

      Personally, I don’t agree with cosmetic improvements. There are plenty of ways nowadays to alter a person’s appearance post-birth that if the person really wants to look different, they can. So, altering a baby’s appearance won’t really do anything, in my opinion. However, I have heard rumor of studies stating that those with higher intelligence are often more likely to be depressed and anxious. I don’t really think that’s best for humanity in the future. But I also believe that we will be our own downfall. :/

      (says the overly dark realist. oops.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I believe China has already created the first genetically modified embryo in 2015 (although it was not allowed to grow and mature.) The US has done the same in 2017, and I can imagine that the delay is due to regulations/ethics and such.

        That is true that there are so many ways to alter one’s appearance without genetics (make-up! plastic surgery!) Arguably genetic engineering is just another way to do this. However what if we discover how to modify the genes for intelligence or certain skills and abilities? Wouldn’t the rich become richer? That is interesting that intelligence is associated with depression and anxiety. I guess more knowledge isn’t necessarily better, right? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The U.S. has done this, you say? Huh. That is news to me. Last I had heard was we were not allowed to because religious groups had too many issues with it and were basically blocking us at every turn. Very interesting.

          Some people claim that there are genes that contribute to intelligence. And if we know the gene, we could likely modify it. However, I have some serious issues with this based on my understanding of not just science, but psychology. First off, there’s probably a dozen or so genes contributing to intelligence. Meaning it wouldn’t be just a single alteration and you’d have to do a TON of studies to see what side effects and alterations would cause. Second, there is actually more than one form of intelligence. Logical intelligence is simply one of them and the most common and often the standard of intelligence, but there is musical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, social intelligence. And, in my experience at least, the more logically intelligent a person is, the less socially intelligent they are. I worry about a society that is super ‘smart’ but incapable of communicating with other people. Scientists already have an issue with this because of the high number of introverts here. And society has reacted in kind by feeling suspicious of scientists. I don’t want to see where that goes either.

          Hahaha no. More intelligence isn’t always better. But isn’t the saying: “Too much of a good thing, is a bad thing?”

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes it was surprising to me as well that there has already been an embryo that was genetically edited in the US:
            https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608350/first-human-embryos-edited-in-us/

            Agreed that there are different forms of intelligence, and that any given form of intelligence would be genetically complex and difficult to target. However I disagree with the assumption that introverts are less capable of communication, which is not always true!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Oh! I know introverts are not less capable of communication. It’s the generality that they often avoid communication because for many, it gives them anxiety. They’d much prefer to stay in their labs. A few do branch out, but most don’t. As such, science communication has suffered greatly. :/

              Trust me, most of my friends are introverts. We socialize just fine. :p But I’m a crazy extrovert so….

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Haha interesting 🙂 Makes me wonder what draws introverts to science and research. Maybe this area could benefit from more extroverts who can spread the word for science?!

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                1. Hee hee! I don’t know if it’s so much as draws introverts as it weeds out the extroverts. :p Also most extroverts are likely drawn to jobs that involve working with people, usually humanities positions. But I’m hoping to be the voice for all the scientific introverts! Now… I just need a job. 😉

                  Liked by 1 person

  3. If my foetus shows signs of serious genetic disorder, then I am inclined to agree that this ‘process’ should be available. I do not, however, believe it should be used to alter anything that could not be deemed a mutated or distorted genetic tendency. Many women have aborted healthy foetus’, is it wrong for the Scandinavians to abort those displaying Downs? I don’t know the answer, but if we ‘get rid of’ all the ‘mutated’ genes – which is probably impossible anyway as there will be throwbacks – maybe humans in the future will be less tolerant of others who do not ‘fit’ with the ideal of a ‘perfect’ being?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ooo. This is a very interesting point you bring up, Alexandra. We already have issues with people not accepting other human beings and I can only imagine this would get far worse in the future. (It’s actually quite a popular topic in dystopian literature where those who aren’t genetically altered or are after the process was banned become exiled and prejudiced against.) It’s a scary world we live in and I’d hate to think it could get worse when we make so little headway in making it better.

      I think one of the hardest problems with ‘mutations’ vs ‘non-mutations’ is that the very diversity of what makes us humans all stemmed from mutations. We didn’t start out in a wide variety of heights, colors, sizes, etc. Humanity as it exists today is a product of mutations and evolution. So who is to say what is a good mutation or bad mutation? Mutations either make us more capable of surviving in our environment or get deselected for through natural selection. Though, humans have negated a lot of natural phenomena so who’s to say we won’t negate nature at its very core?

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  4. Interesting! well my opinion is divided- genes should be altered and should not be. If there’s a perfection, as per your point, if it don’t damage or introduce a new mutation, it should be used to cure Genetic diseases. But looking at the drawbacks and in how many ways it can go wrong, i doubt that disease free science fiction world can be turn to real.

    And talking about doing it on babies for changing appearance or nature or natural gift. Nope, I don’t think it should be done. I believe beautiful face, body, and extraordinary talent brings more problem in life than we can imagine. Your points were were totally valid for this part. Plus, How children will learn things in the world if they were made all so perfect. Guess world will start making factions like divergent or same kinda books- All blue eyes will stay in US. Green in Europe, Black in Egypt. or divide by their talent.- Look at those fictional world what happened.No sorry not for this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh. Absolutely not. I don’t think these is such a thing as a disease-free future, but then again, that has a lot to do with how many diseases form in our bodies. While heritable diseases could be limited with this technology, there are always going to be people who disagree with it and never join the mainstream following of it. Additionally, cancer is due to mutations in the genome POST birth. Thus, engineering babies isn’t really going to do much in terms of eradicating cancer. (As a geneticist, I don’t believe cancer will ever disappear. We can only just have better treatments for it because of how it works.)

      Oh man. You’re absolutely right. We will have such a harsh stratification of society should superficial engineering be allowed. Or you will simply have the number of hate crimes skyrocketing because now there are even more reasons to separate people and judge them. I think it’s a bad idea. It will not end well, but most people don’t think about the consequences or the long-term ends. They only see the present with its large amount of money lining their pockets. sigh

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for weighing in, Rae. I love hearing from women who have no interest in having children because society needs to stop pressuring women to have children. 🙂

      That being said, I am curious about your viewpoint. You think if someone wanted to have a child with a certain eye color, hair color, or skin color, it would be acceptable as it’s their choice? I don’t mean to goad you on, but I always love hearing your opinion on complex matters.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I feel like what I think doesn’t matters even if I disagree you know? Like I think it’s a bit excessive to do all of that but if someone else is doing it it’s not really any of my business. Even if a close friend came to me and said they were doing it I would tell them that I support them because they are my friend and that I don’t necessarily agree and that it’s their choice.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Interesting viewpoint, Rae. I think this is very important, that more people would need to realize that someone else’s decision doesn’t impact them, but I fear for humanity should this ever become mainstream. Most people can’t only focus on themselves. I hate to think of the prejudice that will exist in the future when people are given more things to compare between themselves and other people. 😦

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Hahahaha! This post was forever ago because I am so bad at responding to comments now.

              As to price, I am currently unaware of how much it costs. Though, I’ve heard that a single round of IVF costs $10,000. So I can only imagine how much it would cost to actually generate modifications instead of just screen for them.

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                1. Yes, price is a deterrent for most people (except the rich.) But I know one of the HUGE focuses of genetics research is constantly bringing down costs so… I’m not holding my breath. I think we’ll see this in our lifetime. o.o

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. I understand that. Even with working on price reduction, do you know how long that would take? I honestly didn’t know this was possible until you brought it up so I would think many non geneticists would either. I mean, I know that you can choose a boy or girl with IVF but that’s as far as my “knowledge” goes

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. I think the hardest part won’t necessarily be the tech so much as getting the allowance to do these procedures. There will be a TON of difficulties with governmental regulations and what not once the technology becomes accessible to a larger number of people.

                      Additionally, we still don’t know a TON about the genes involved in a lot of things (most research goes to cancer and sometimes heritable diseases, not looking into physical traits.) So even if it did become cheap in the next 30-50 years, we would have to start devoting research (and a TON of funding) to determining which genes impact which physical traits. And problem here is that while diseases can be looked at in non-human models, most physical traits are solely found in humans. I’m not sure what kind of crazy battles we’d have to fight to actually understand those genes (maybe using available databases to look at alterations, but… we’d still have to do tests to prove it. We can’t just mutate a gene in an embryo without full knowledge of what that mutation will do and human testing is [and hopefully always will be] illegal.) Sorry… that was long. o.o

                      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your opinion! And I have wondered whether opinions might differ between people who have already used science to their advantage vs those who have not needed it as much. IVF is an amazing advancement and helpful for so many people. I actually believe they already screen the IVF embryos for certain diseases though you may know better than me.

      And I agree with you. I think that this technology could be used to help with disease. Though, I do not agree with it for cosmetic purposes, but it becomes difficult to create and enforce that line. Do you know what I mean?

      Liked by 1 person

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