New Patent Opens Can of Worms on 'Designer Babies'

Geneticists worry 23andMe trying to 'breed better people'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 6, 2013 2:04 PM CDT

(Newser) – A pretty controversial new patent its taking the idea of a designer baby to a whole new level. A trait selection process from 23andMe, based on parent and donor DNA, could, in theory, be used to boost the chances of a particular sex, as well as hair or eye color, the Wall Street Journal reports. It also has the potential to screen out disease, but 23andMe says that isn't the goal of the company's Family Traits Inheritance Calculator. Instead, it offers people "a fun way" to predict what their child might look like "or if their child will be able to perceive bitter taste or be lactose tolerant." But geneticists aren't too happy.

"We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus from which to choose a future child’s traits," the Center for Genetics and Society said, per the Los Angeles Times, calling the system "ethically and socially treacherous" since "it could encourage the dangerous idea that science should be used to breed 'better' people." But 23andMe says it hasn't headed in that direction, "nor do we have any plans to do so." Still, a biotechnology patents expert tells the Journal, 23andMe's patent "is a shot across the bow—a signal to the world that this is what the future is going to look like." (Read more 23andMe stories.)

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