BY BRANDON KEIM10.02.1312:08 PM
As described in a patent recently granted by the United States Patent Office, consumer genomics company 23andMe [started by the soon to be ex-wife of one of the Google Guys] has developed a system for helping prospective parents choose the traits of their offspring, from disease risk to hair color. Put another way, it’s a designer baby-making system.
The company says it does not intend to use the technology this way. “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.”
Filed in December 2008, the patent — number 8543339, “Gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations” — sounds like something out of Gattaca, the 1997 movie that came to symbolize tensions between self-determination and biologically ordained fate.
The patent describes a technology that would take a customer’s preferences for a child’s traits, compute the likely genomic outcomes of combinations between a customer’s sperm or egg and other people’s sex cells, and describe which potential reproductive matches would most likely produce the desired baby.
Among the traits listed in the application as examples of possible choice are: height, weight, hair color, risks of colorectal cancer and congenital heart defects, expected life span, expected lifetime health care costs, and athleticism.