There has been a lot of chatter in the media lately about the threat of designer babies to the future of the human race. The United Kingdom recently voted to legalize “three person babies” created from the nuclear DNA of two parents and the mitochondria of a third donor, and more recently, American scientists have been calling for a moratorium on human germline manipulations due to fears that genetic editing techniques are becoming too easy and cheap. The risk, apparently, is that a rogue investigator will get his or her hands on embryos and try to create a race of hyperintelligent blue-eyed superbabies. Or, alternatively, that the experiment will go awry and we will end up with real-life Professor X and Magneto battling it out on the streets of New York City.
There are many reasons why fears that genetic manipulation is poised to alter the future of humanity are completely overblown. For the past thirty years, frothy commentary about the promise of gene therapy has ended with statements like, “Many scientific obstacles remain before it becomes a practical form of therapy.” That’s still true today. Moreover, even if techniques for genetic manipulation advanced to the point where tweaking DNA was a mere surcharge to the already steep cost of in vitro fertilization (about $20,000 for each attempt), only a small minority of individuals on the planet could afford the procedure—and they would only be willing to bear the expense, emotional stress, and physical indignities if the rewards were great. Which brings us to the next issue: Most genetic diseases that would theoretically be amenable to gene editing can already be screened out by testing the DNA of IVF embryos and picking the healthy ones, and nobody has a clue how to make a brilliant, blue-eyed baby. After billions of dollars have been spent to sequence the human genome, the precise genetic determinants of polygenic traits like intelligence and eye color remain unknown.To read more, click here.