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First commercial baby predicting patent launched

By Tim Sandle     Oct 5, 2013 in Health
California-based genetic testing company 23andMe has been awarded a patent which will allow couples to predict the ideal characteristics that they want to have in their baby .
The patented technology is called the “Family Traits Inheritance Calculator” and it has raised some concerns. In theory, the BBC notes, technology will allow for the making designer babies based on the genetic profiles of couples seeking to procreate.
With the technology, prospective parents could use the company’s technology to choose which gametes to use in an in vitro fertilization scenario to get just the baby they wanted. According to the patent, this would allow the selection of a wide range of traits including a child’s eye color, lactose tolerance, and earwax consistency.
Criticizing the technology, Sigrid Sterckx, a bioethicist at Ghent University in Belgium, has written in the journal Genetics in Medicine: "What 23andMe is claiming is a method by which prospective donors of ova and/or sperm may be selected so as to increase the likelihood of producing a human baby with characteristics desired by the prospective parents, the selection being based on a computerized comparison of the genotypic data of the egg provider with that of the sperm provider."
Sterckx goes onto say: "The use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to avoid implantation of embryos bearing serious genetic abnormalities is by now becoming commonplace, but a computerized process for selecting gamete donors to achieve a baby with a ‘phenotype of interest’ that the prospective parent ‘desires in his/her hypothetical offspring,’ as 23andMe puts it, seems to have much broader implications, for this process also entails the selection of traits that are not disease related."
The company, however, deny that the technology will be used for creating 'designer babies'. They told New Scientist that "The company never pursued the concepts discussed in the patent beyond our Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, nor do we have any plans to do so."
Unconvinced by these assurances, Marcy Darnovsky, director of the Center for Genetics and Society, has stated that "It would be highly irresponsible for 23andMe or anyone else to offer a product or service based on this patent. It amounts to shopping for designer donors in an effort to produce designer babies. 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."
This debate is set to run for sometime.
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