Designer babies: the future of humankind?
17 January 2022
The world today has bid adieu to infertility by the development of IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) commonly known as the test tube baby. The first baby born by this technique; Louise Brown has proven it to be a successful trial even though the ethical committee were sceptical about it then. However, now it is not the case. IVF centres are present in every nook and corner to help distressed couples to receive the joy of becoming parents. Also, with the advent of stem cells, stem cell banking allows for treatment methods to repair any disorders which can arise in the future. However, now biology is moving ahead and devising a technique, to get rid of any mutation or disease-causing genes present in the embryonic stage itself.
When we hear the term 'designer' we immediately think about the times when we go to our designers to design our clothes or our houses just the way we want. So, what exactly is a "designer baby"? This idea was originally used to detect the genes (by pre-implantation diagnosis) that would lead to a particular disease in an individual in the future. These genes can then be edited by a gene editing technique such as Crispr-Cas9 technology where those particular genes would be removed and hence the embryo will then be allowed to undergo foetal development. The first designer baby born was Adam Nash in the year 2000, whose DNA were observed to check for presence of Fanconi anemia, which is a rare inherited blood disease after his elder sister Molly suffered from it. His DNA was also checked for a specific marker to identify if a particular tissue type was present. Later, Adam was conceived and his umbilical cord stem cells were used for stem cell therapy for his sister’s treatment. This technique can also be used for inheritable disorders such as sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, etc. as well so that the future generations can also be protected from it. Recently, He Jiankui, a researcher reported that he had successfully edited genes in twin babies- Lulu and Nana for HIV resistance. He edited the CCR5 receptor which is required for the HIV virus to adhere and invade the cell since one of the parents was HIV positive.
Well, these incidences do show us that in fact designing babies is a beneficial technique for upcoming generations to prevent them from having any life-threatening disorders. However, the ethical committee does not approve of it since editing of genes could lead to editing of necessary genes required for the development of an individual. There can be serious circumstances and ill effects in the future which cannot be contemplated at the moment on how successful this technique is and what would be the appropriate treatment methods used against them in the future. Also, this technique could be exploited in the future for designing babies with higher IQ, beauty features such as eye colour, hair type or for particular desired genes. Also, for certain diseases such as diabetes, obesity which not only relies on the genes but also on the environmental factors, at what extent would this technique be beneficial is questionable at the moment. Hence, though there could be sight for this in the future, how will it actually affect mankind, only time would tell.