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Designer babies

Designer babies: Chinese company working on technology to allow parents to pick 'smartest' embryos

Saturday, January 25, 2014 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: designer babies, Chinese company, smart embryos

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(NaturalNews) Eugenics is quickly becoming big business in China, where at least one genomics company is attempting to pave the way for parents to literally pick and choose the "best" embryos to obtain the smartest possible children. Quartz reports that the cognitive genomics (CG) division at the Shenzhen-based genomics company BGI is currently working on the controversial project, which could one day allow for pregnancies with "designer" babies.

Like the plot of a bizarre sci-fi flick, the goal is to create detailed maps of the genes of smart individuals (e.g., math geniuses, thinkers and the like) for the purpose of identifying and selecting those genes in the embryos used for in vitro fertilization. Since as much as 80 percent of what determines IQ level is believed to be inherited, researchers believe that it may be possible to identify certain "smart" genes in human embryos that could be used to predict intelligence later in life.

In this case, the BGI team is looking for genes directly associated with intelligence. Once identified, these genes could potentially be used as markers for choosing only those embryos that possess them in the proper sequence. Embryos that do not meet the intelligence threshold, on the other hand, could simply be discarded as "defective," a controversial proposition that stands to open up a Pandora's box of both ethical and moral dilemmas.

"Imagine what a couple might pay to ensure that they get the best out of 10 or 50 possible offspring, optimizing over their choice of heritable attributes," writes Stephen Hsu, a CG lab member currently working on the project, on his blog.

Chinese government funding 'designer' baby technology

What BGI is proposing, however, is far different from, say, screening embryos for known genetic diseases before implanting them. The latter might be seen as simply reprieving an individual from a life of disease, while the former resembles some kind of genetic cleansing endeavor the devalues human life. Do we really want to create a world where only the smartest individuals are considered to have any value or worth, while those less fortunate from an intelligence standpoint are considered unworthy of existing?

"[S]paring a baby from disease is different from picking Einsteins out of petri dishes so you can scrimp on Harvard tuition," writes Gwynn Guilford for Quartz, illustrating this point.

At the same time, consumer demand is not necessarily the driving force behind the initiative. According to reports, major funding for the project is coming from the China Development Bank, a state-owned bank that specifically lends money to government "pet" projects. In other words, the Chinese government, building upon its one-child eugenics policy, apparently now wants Chinese families to have only one smart child.

"China Development Bank, a state bank that lends to government pet projects, has given BGI $1.5 billion" for the project, adds Guilford about the setup.

Other countries, like the U.K., are also showing interest in the technology, which could help it advance even more quickly if the governments of these countries decide to lend their support. In the eyes of BGI's Chris Chang, who recently told The New Yorker that it is only a matter of time before "designer" baby technology becomes the ntiorm, embryo discriminaon has the potential to become national policy for many countries.

"There are going to be countries that say this is part of our national health-care service and everyone is doing it," he explained. "And eventually it would become unstoppable, because the countries that initially outlawed it would have to come around. How could they not?"

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