Plan for Super-Intelligent Designer Babies Won't Work, Study Says

Scientists say they have debunked the idea of scanning embryos to select the highest intelligence offspring.
Chris Young
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In November of last year, a company, with the very sci-fi name of Genomic Prediction, claimed it could screen an embryo's genes and tell parents about the characteristics of their child before its birth.

The method, the company claimed, allowed it to scan an embryo and read for traits impacted by certain genes, including intelligence. They could then give it a “polygenic score.”

Now, a new study claims that the fears surrounding this method — which some believed could be used to select super-smart designer babies — are unfounded.


Selective genetics

The company originally stated that its screening process was developed so that parents could avoid using an embryo with an unusually low score for in-vitro fertilization.

Of course, concerns were quickly raised about the possibilities of using the method to create incredibly smart designer babies.

As Futurism points out, that fear seems to be unfounded. A new study presented at this year's meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics has debunked the accuracy of the polygenic score technique.

The team of scientists, led by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem statistical geneticist Shai Carmi, brought the claim down to probability. They created computer models of five hypothetical embryos by mixing the DNA profiles of two people.

Height and IQ data of parents was used to predict outcomes. "Virtual genomes" were created for the embryos and each was given a polygenic score to predict height or IQ of the person that would be born from it.

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Putting the screening test to the test

The researchers put the technique to the test by giving polygenic height scores to all of the theoretical babies in 28 families with an average of 10 children.

Only in seven of the families was the child with the highest polygenic score the tallest. In fact, in five families, the highest-scoring child was actually the shortest.

Imagine paying for a tall child only to get the shortest in the class — scratch that, imagine paying to choose a child's characteristics at all.

That's not to say Genomic Prediction is all bad. Its tests can be successfully used to allow parents to identify embryos likely to produce children with disabilities. Just don't expect to see super-intelligent designer babies any time soon.