DESIGNER BABIES WITH ALTERED GENES
Written by – Ashwathy Nair
A thought for the parents…..
Will you go for a baby with blond or aubum hairs?? Do you want your baby to be tall or short?? Smart or funny?? One with brown or hazel colored eyes??
Once the selection is done, its time to design your baby!!
This sounds quite amusing. However with rapid advances in understanding of human genome and the ability to alter/modify specific genes, it is now possible to “design” a baby in near future. Designer babies as the name itself suggests “Babies that are designed in such a way that their genetic makeup is altered when in the womb either to achieve desired looks, characters, skills by removing certain gene or by incorporating particular gene”. The basic aim of creating such designer babies is to carefully carry out gene editing to make controlled modifications to specific areas of genome to combat many of the diseases that is not possible until now. It is estimated that about 7.9 million children each year are born with serious genetic birth defects. So by carefully editing such defective genes at the embryonic stage can virtually help to eradicate most of the birth defects and can be a promising approach for reduction in infant mortality.
The basic principle of this concept is that during the invitro fertilization of egg from the mother and sperm from the father in a small petridish, mitochondria from the third parent can be inserted into the embryo and then transferred to the mother’s uterus. These mitochondria from the third parent hold the genes that will bring about the desired effect.
Dr.Perry carried out the precise editing of the genome of mice at the point DNA from the sperm and egg came together using a pair of molecular scissors and molecular sat-nav. It was known that injecting the egg cells with sperm, along with cas9 and guide RNA efficiently produces embryos and offsprings with edited genomes . CRISPR technology is the most widely used by biologists as a tool to alter the DNA and can be a promising approach to treat illnesses like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia, Alzheimer’s, etc. Having background knowledge of the differentiation of pluripotent stem cells and controlling the cell differentiation, it is possible to control the tissue formation and size of organs and expression of genes that control human traits, thereby allowing the creation of designer babies. It is a gene editing technology to replace the defective part of the DNA sequence with a healthy one or to tamper with the DNA to alter the faulty gene causing the disease.
This novel concept deals with many ethical issues. Many argue that its unethical and unnatural to create babies the way you want. Also it is morally wrong since the parents are not accepting the child the way it was. Other issue with designer babies is that if the parents selected a particular trait and if that trait is not expressed due to some reasons then it might disappoint the parents as they paid for a trait that didn’t pay off. It may even hurt the child and affect the parent- child relationship. So only after the ethical problems are sorted out, this technology can be made in use in near future for treatment of various diseases.
- C.F. Perry et al, “Asymmetric parental genome engineering by cas9 during mouse meiotic exit”; Scientific reports, 2014, art no.7621.