We may be one step closer to designer babies.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent last Tuesday to the Silicon Valley company 23andMe for its Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, a tool they’ve been using since 2009 as part of their genetics-assessment services.
23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki is the wife of Google founder Sergey Brin, who, along with Google and Google Ventures, has given $161 million in funding to the company.
Clients send in saliva samples and receive back a report on the different traits and conditions their children might inherit. 23andMe describes the tool as “a fun way to look at such things as what eye color their child might have or if their child will be able to perceive bitter taste or be lactose intolerant.”
But it's the tool's possibilities that have sparked some backlash. When 23andMe filed for the patent in 2008, it considered using the technology for applications in fertility clinics, allowing for more calculated donor selection at egg or sperm banks. The patent allows for recipients to evaluate how their genes may combine with a donor’s, giving an example of a recipient with a higher cancer risk being able to narrow in on a donor with a lower one.
In a press release announcing the patent, 23andMe explained that since filing the patent five years ago, its strategic focus has changed and it no longer has plans to implement the technology in fertility clinics as a donor-selection tool.
The genetics community has still issued pleas to the company, urging it not to develop any donor-selection services. The Center for Genetics and Society said this was a misstep on the part of the patent office.
“It amounts to shopping for designer donors in an effort to produce designer babies,” CGS executive director Marcy Darnovsky said. “We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus from which to choose a future child’s traits,” she continued, adding that 23andMe now has a duty to use this patent as a way to prevent other companies from implementing this technology in fertility clinics.
HuffPost blogger Dov Fox, an assistant professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, noted that the patent office may have shirked some of its moral responsibilities.
“Even if 23andMe doesn't bring its donor selection technique to market, there's still reason to resist granting such patents in the first place,” Fox wrote. “When the government confers a patent for a particular invention, it implicitly approves of that invention as an object worthy of exclusive rights.”
While the technology allows for parents to have a baby with a lower chance of health risks, the selection of other traits -- eye color, athletic ability or skin flush from alcohol, as the patent notes -- may provide a power to parents that is ultimately detrimental.
“The patented technology, by encouraging parents to choose this particular child for just the right characteristics,” Fox writes, “threatens to crowd out our acceptance of children, as they arrive to us, with our desires for what we hope them to be.”
Also on HuffPost:
In 2007, South Korean scientists altered a cat’s DNA to make it glow in the dark and then took that DNA and cloned other cats from it — creating a set of fluffy, <a href="http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2007/12/13/4349719-cloned-cats-that-glow" target="_hplink">fluorescent felines</a>. Here’s how they did it: The researchers took skin cells from Turkish Angora female cats and used a virus to insert genetic instructions for making red fluorescent protein. Then they put the gene-altered nuclei into the eggs for cloning, and the cloned embryos were implanted back into the donor cats — making the cats the surrogate mothers for their own clones. What’s the point of creating a pet that doubles as a nightlight? Scientists say the ability to engineer animals with fluorescent proteins will enable them to artificially create animals with human genetic diseases.
The <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100330-bacon-pigs-enviropig-dead-http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100330-bacon-pigs-enviropig-dead-zones/" target="_hplink">Enviropig</a>, or “Frankenswine,” as critics call it, is a pig that’s been genetically altered to better digest and process phosphorus. Pig manure is high in phytate, a form of phosphorus, so when farmers use the manure as fertilizer, the chemical enters the watershed and causes algae blooms that deplete oxygen in the water and kill marine life. So scientists added an E. Coli bacteria and mouse DNA to a pig embryo. This modification decreases a pig’s phosphorous output by as much as 70 percent — making the pig more environmentally friendly.
Scientists at the University of <a href="http://www.mnn.com/local-reports/washington" target="_hplink">Washington</a> are <a href="http://wa.water.usgs.gov/pubs/fs/fs082-98/" target="_hplink">engineering poplar trees that can clean up contamination sites</a> by absorbing groundwater pollutants through their roots. The plants then break the pollutants down into harmless byproducts that are incorporated into their roots, stems and leaves or released into the air. In laboratory tests, the transgenic plants are able to remove as much as 91 percent of trichloroethylene — the most common groundwater contaminant at U.S. Superfund sites — out of a liquid solution. Regular poplar plants removed just 3 percent of the contaminant.
Scientists have recently taken the gene that programs poison in scorpion tails and combined it with cabbage. Why would they want to create <a href="http://www.nature.com/cr/journal/v12/n2/full/7290120a.html" target="_hplink">venomous cabbage</a>? To limit pesticide use while still preventing caterpillars from damaging cabbage crops. These genetically modified cabbages produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves — but the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans.
Strong, flexible spider silk is one of the most valuable materials in nature, and it could be used to make an array of products — from artificial ligaments to parachute cords — if we could just produce it on a commercial scale. In 2000, Nexia Biotechnologies announced it had the answer: <a href="http://www.physorg.com/news194539934.html" target="_hplink">a goat that produced spiders’ web protein</a> in its milk. Researchers inserted a spiders’ dragline silk gene into the goats’ DNA in such a way that the goats would make the silk protein only in their milk. This “silk milk” could then be used to manufacture a web-like material called Biosteel.
AquaBounty’s genetically modified salmon grows twice as fast as the conventional variety — the photo shows two same-age salmon with the genetically altered one in the rear. The company says the fish has the same flavor, texture, color and odor as a regular salmon; however, the debate continues over whether the fish is safe to eat. <a href="http://www.aquabounty.com/products/products-295.aspx" target="_hplink">Genetically engineered Atlantic salmon</a> has an added growth hormone from a Chinook salmon that allows the fish to produce growth hormone year-round. Scientists were able to keep the hormone active by using a gene from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout, which acts as an “on switch” for the hormone. If the FDA approves the sale of the salmon, it will be the first time the government has allowed modified animals to be marketed for human consumption. According to federal guidelines, the fish would not have to be labeled as genetically modified.
Flavr Savr tomato
The <a href="http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.org/landingpage.cfm?article=ca.v054n04p6&fulltext=yes" target="_hplink">Flavr Savr tomato</a> was the first commercially grown genetically engineered food to be granted a license for human consumption. By adding an antisense gene, the <a href="http://www.mnn.com/local-reports/california" target="_hplink">California</a>-based company Calgene hoped to slow the ripening process of the tomato to prevent softening and rotting, while allowing the tomato to retain its natural flavor and color. The FDA approved the Flavr Savr in 1994; however, the tomatoes were so delicate that they were difficult to transport, and they were off the market by 1997. On top of production and shipping problems, the tomatoes were also reported to have a very bland taste: “The Flavr Savr tomatoes didn’t taste that good because of the variety from which they were developed. There was very little flavor to save,” said Christ Watkins, a horticulture professor at Cornell University.
<a href="http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/photos/12-bizarre-examples-of-genetic-engineering/banana-vaccines" target="_hplink"><strong>CLICK HERE</strong></a> to continue on to <a href="http://www.mnn.com" target="_hplink">Mother Nature Network</a> to see the rest of these bizarre genetically engineered creations, including <a href="http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/photos/12-bizarre-examples-of-genetic-engineering/banana-vaccines" target="_hplink">banana vaccines</a>, <a href="http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/photos/12-bizarre-examples-of-genetic-engineering/less-flatulent-cow" target="_hplink">less-flatulent cows</a>, <a href="http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/photos/12-bizarre-examples-of-genetic-engineering/medicinal-eggs" target="_hplink">medicinal eggs</a> and more!