Monday, April 14, 2008

The Dawn of Designer Babies

That's right folks...step right up and design the child you've always dreamed of...

A new form of cloning has been developed that is easier to carry out than the technique used to create Dolly the sheep, raising fears that it may one day be used on human embryos to produce "designer" babies.

Scientists who used the procedure to create baby mice from the skin cells of adult animals have found it to be far more efficient than the Dolly technique, with fewer side effects, which makes it more acceptable for human use.

The mice were made by inserting skin cells of an adult animal into early embryos produced by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). Some of the resulting offspring were partial clones but some were full clones – just like Dolly.

Unlike the Dolly technique, however, the procedure is so simple and efficient that it has raised fears that it will be seized on by IVF doctors to help infertile couples who are eager to have their own biological children.

One scientist said this weekend that a maverick attempt to perform the technique on humans is now too real to ignore. "It's unethical and unsafe, but someone may be doing it today," said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of American biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology.


"In addition to the great therapeutic promise demonstrated by this technology, the same technology opens a whole new can of worms," Dr Lanza said.

"At this point there are no laws or regulations for this kind of thing and the bizarre thing is that the Catholic Church and other traditional stem-cell opponents think this technology is great when in reality it could in the end become one of their biggest nightmares," he said. "It is quite possible that the real legacy of this whole new programming technology is that it will be introducing the era of designer babies.

"So for instance if we had a few skin cells from Albert Einstein, or anyone else in the world, you could have a child that is say 10 per cent or 70 per cent Albert Einstein by just injecting a few of their cells into an embryo," he said.

Can you imagine the conversations at the PTA meetings?

"We cloned little Billy after Shaquille O'Neal...his Daddy wanted a basketball player. Who is little Sally cloned after?"

"Well, we opted for brains, so we went for the "Scientist Package", but we're not sure it took...she seems a little slow. How about your little Timmy, Martha?"

"Unfortunately, we didn't have the cash to design little Timmy....sigh."