The Designer Dilemma
MBBS student, Terna medical college
It’s hard to imagine a world without designer items, be it clothes, watches, bags, or perfumes! The industry is bustling with the huge increase in demand for luxury and designer items. Although I do not really understand the hype or the reason behind it, any one of you readers please feel free to give me a Gucci bag.
This Designer world has finally laid its hands on the medical field and now it has been possible to create a designer baby!
It seems unbelievable and one step too far, but just like custom bags, now you can also design your own baby. Genetic engineering has created the new CRISPR-cas9 technology that can edit genes. This is a unique technology that allows us to edit parts of a genome by adding or altering sections of the DNA sequence.
The case is basically an enzyme that acts like a molecular scissor that can cut the two strands of DNA at a specific location in the genome so that bits of DNA can be added or removed.
Genome editing is of great interest in the prevention and treatment of human diseases.
Genome editing seems like the only answer to parents who carry latent genes that could result in birth defects or poor quality of life for their children.
This means that various diseases like cystic fibrosis or thalassemia could be prevented when both parents have specific heritable traits. This means that an HIV-positive parent can have an HIV-negative child who is genetically immune to the disease. In fact, the various embryos could be screened for potential heart problems, cancers, and susceptibility to diabetes before they are even born!
But before we proceed toward new technological advances we need to pause and reflect. Are designer babies ethical? Is this an ethical horror waiting to happen? Are we interfering with the natural process of conception?
Germline mutations in embryos can be inheritable and this could create an entirely new population of designer genes. How will this impact our gene pool? Could we possibly create a new generation of superhumans?
In theory, designer babies could mean freedom from some life-threatening but rare diseases, we could potentially change the trivial aspects of external appearance as well as influence the overall health of the individual. But will this be as appealing as other designer stuff? Will people go for it in large numbers to sustain an industry?
As rosy as it seems, genetic engineering involves a lot of testing to find the right embryo with all the desired traits. Does it seem right to tamper with so many embryos just to kill them in the end? This is similar to the debate about abortion. And even though our dream to create perfect humans has now become a reality, certain traits are polygenic which might involve as many as a hundred different genes which cannot be genetically engineered at the same time.
The social argument against genetic babies is that if it becomes an accessible medical practice, it would still create a divide between the population that can afford it and the lower economic strata that cannot. So the wealthy might be able to afford certain traits in their offspring while others might just have to leave it in the hands of fate. This will not only widen the economic gap but also create a genetic gap between the rich and the poor.
Ultimately, this technology has the scope for improving the prenatal screening and occurrence of genetic disorders but it comes with social repercussions and ethical dilemmas that still need to be addressed.