Before the Claims of Crispr Babies, There Was Chinas One …

Posted: December 4, 2018 at 10:42 pm

In China, many people have already ventured into that terrain. Even before Crispr, it has been possible to create so-called designer babies using in vitro fertilization and selecting egg donors with desirable genetic enhancements, such as looks and intelligence. Thats what many wealthy Chinese have been doing for years. The practice is fairly standard among rich consumers of any nationality, but I was told by fertility clinics and doctors in California that Chinese customers were frequently the most upfront and demanding, driving up prices of East Asian donor eggs to twice and even triple market rates.

Wendie Wilson-Miller, who runs an egg donor agency in Southern California, told me that her Chinese clients almost always want taller, at least 5 foot 5. And they have questions about eyelids; they want to see baby pictures to see if the donors had eyelid surgery.

For years, B.G.I. Shenzhen, one of the worlds largest gene-sequencing facilities, has been running a project to explore the genetic basis for human intelligence, with the goal of eventually enabling parents to boost their offsprings I.Q. before birth. While it may not be possible to isolate human intelligence to a purely genetic component, the company clearly believes theres huge potential demand for such a service. One of its co-founders, Wang Jiang, recently caused a furor when he said in a speech that employees would not be allowed to have children with birth defects because they would be a disgrace.

No society is uniform, and news of the Crispr babies has generated much condemnation and outrage within China, particularly by Dr. Hes peers, who consider him an irresponsible rogue scientist. A top Chinese bioethicist, Qiu Renzong, compared his actions to using a cannon to shoot a bird.

But at the same time, a recent poll indicated wide support in China for gene editing to treat disease, with 24 percent in favor of legalizing gene editing for enhancing intelligence. By contrast, 68 percent of Americans say they are worried about gene editing and its effects, according to Pew Research.

Much is still unknown about the so-called Crispr babies. But it is almost certain that more will follow; Dr. He has already said his experiments have generated another pregnancy. It is also almost certain someone will attempt gene editing to make stronger, smarter, more attractive babies. Pandoras box is wide open in China.

Mei Fong, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of One Child: The Story of Chinas Most Radical Experiment.

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Before the Claims of Crispr Babies, There Was Chinas One …

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