Genetics Will Let Parents Build Their Baby

ByABC News via logo
November 3, 2006, 11:32 AM

Nov. 3, 2006 — -- They are questions that are at once repulsive and intriguing.

What if you could predetermine the genetics of your newborn baby? Choose your baby's hair color? Eye color? Brain power? How athletic the child will be? Or take it even further -- what if you could choose to have a child with a talent for playing the piano or a master at chess?

Would you do it? Would you tinker with nature?

These are questions parents will face head on in just 25 years.

In fact, some of this genetic manipulation is already possible and happening in the year 2006.

For around $12,400, a couple can use in vitro fertilization and choose whether to implant a male or female embryo in the mother's womb. It's not common, but it is quietly happening at fertility clinics all across the country.

And the scientific knowledge exists to do even more.

"We already have the ability to isolate genes that affect a lot of the physical traits humans have and the physiological traits," said geneticist Lee Silver, a professor of molecular biology and public policy at Princeton University.

"What's going to happen over the next 10 [years] to 25 years is that we are going to fill out the puzzle. We are going to understand how all of the genes in the genome effect how tall we are, whether we are likely to be thin or heavy, and then I think scientists are going to probe the brain and understand how people have different personalities and different levels of abilities," Silver said.

The big question in the future will be: Do parents want to take that understanding of which genes dictate which traits and use it to alter the genetic makeup of their children?

"The question is whether people want to use the technology for that purpose," Silver said.

At a recent gathering of pregnant mothers in New York City, we asked the women how they would feel about selecting certain traits for their babies and found a lot of resistance to the idea.

"I think once you start choosing, you know, what your baby should look like and what it should be and what the sex should be, you take the excitement out of the unexpected," said Aleona Sencion, who is seven months pregnant.