If Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks caused sales of George Orwell’s 1984 to surge, the following news should cause sales of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to go through the roof: a company has patented a system that would allow users to design their own babies.
The patent was granted to 23andMe, a genetic testing company based in California. The approved tool works as a type of calculator, allowing prospective parents to pick and choose traits for their desired offspring, such as hair color and freckling. It essentially draws from a pool of eggs, sperm and other sex cells, figuring out which combination of DNA and cells would produce offspring that most closely aligns with the parents’ preferences. The patent application explained that the company had already been able to analyze the genes of over 240 traits.
Despite receiving the patent from the United States Patent Office, the company denies any intent to use its tool for designer baby-making.
“When we originally introduced the tool and filed the patent there was some thinking the feature could have applications for fertility clinics. But we’ve never pursued the idea, and have no plans to do so,” said Catherine Afarian, a spokeswoman from 23andMe.
The company’s patent also includes a calculator that would detect a particular child’s risk for certain genetic diseases, as well as for various genetic traits such as the inability or ability to “taste bitter.”
23andMe currently offers genetic testing for “health, disease and ancestry,” so the new patent would not drastically alter the company’s current business plan. The company already offers an “Inheritance Calculator” on its site, which allows parents to see the probability of its future child’s various traits. It does not, however, allow them to "design" their baby prior to viewing these results.
Also, genetically testing for more abstract traits, such as artistic or athletic ability, can be more unpredictable than some choosy parents might like to believe. Even if 23andMe’s new patent were to take effect, it would likely not produce the perfect child with each calculation.