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'Designer Babies:' Patented Process Could Lead To Selection Of Genes For Specific Traits

Publication Date: 
October 03, 2013
The Wall Street Journal
Gautam Naik

CLB Fellow Jacob Sherkow weighs in on a patented process which could lead to “designer babies” and how the process may be a “signal to the world that this is what the future is going to look like" with the Wall Street Journal's Gautam Naik. 

A personal-genomics company in California has been awarded a broad U.S. patent for a technique that could be used in a fertility clinic to create babies with selected traits, as the frontiers of genetic enhancement continue to advance.

The patented process from 23andMe, whose main business is collecting DNA from customers and analyzing it to provide information about health and ancestry, could be employed to match the genetic profile of a would-be parent to that of donor sperm or eggs. In theory, this could lead to the advent of "designer babies," a controversial idea where genes would be selected to boost the chances of a child having certain physical attributes, such as a particular eye or hair color.


"Test tube babies were seen as an abomination [initially] but today they are routine and boring," said Jacob Sherkow, an expert on biotechnology patents at Stanford University's law school. In the same way, he added, 23andMe's patent "is a shot across the bow—a signal to the world that this is what the future is going to look like."