23andMe, a company that analyzes customers’ DNA and provides info about their health and ancestry, has recently received a U.S. patent for a system that can help future parents choose the traits they want for their would-be children.
The patent, titled Gamete Donor Selection Based On Genetic Calculations, describes a system of computing the likely genetic outcomes of the combinations of the customer and the donor and then identifying which combinations would most likely result in the desired traits. In effect, the technology can be used to identify the donor who matches the desired genetic profile and in turn create a baby with the traits that the parents had in mind. The system is more specific than the general or broad kind of selection that is being done in fertility clinics.
Some of the traits mentioned as examples in the patent include height, weight, hair color, risks of congenital heart defects, estimated life span, among others.
The technology raises several ethical concerns, but it can potentially help future parents have healthier babies by screening out donors with genes predisposed to specific illnesses.
According to an article on the company’s website, 23andMe applied for the patent some five years ago to cover the technology that supports one of the company’s existing tools, the Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, a tool that tells customers the potential traits that their child may inherit from them. At the time of the filing, the company was already aware of the potential applications of the technology in fertility clinics, but 23andMe claims that it has no plans of using the patent in that way.
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