A personal genetics firm was recently granted a patent on a system that lets you predict the traits of a baby -- but the company promises not to use.
The Mountain View, Calif., company 23andMe just announced the patent for a system that would let parents to be chose traits they’d like to pass on or suppress in their children, from hair and eye color to susceptibility to diseases.
"Taken out of 'patentese,' what 23andMe is claiming is a method by which prospective donors of ova and/or sperm may be selected so as to increase the likelihood of producing a human baby with characteristics desired by the prospective parents," explained Sigrid Sterckx, a bioethicist at Ghent University in Belgium
"What is claimed is not a cast-iron, fool-proof method guaranteeing that the eventual child will have all the phenotypic traits on the parents’ shopping list, an impossible task, but merely a method of improving the chances that the baby has the right' characteristics," she wrote.
An image of the system associated with the patent shows a simple, pull-down menu to design your offspring: “I prefer a child with a low risk of colorectal cancer,” for example, or “I prefer a child with a high probability of blue eyes.”
But rest assured, the company told Wired it promises not to use the technology.
“When we originally introduced the tool and filed the patent there was some thinking the feature could have applications for fertility clinics,”said Catherine Afarian, a 23andMe spokeswoman. “But we’ve never pursued the idea, and have no plans to do so.”