Gene Expression

The Perfect BabyTM

Genetic Future points me to a Nature News story, Making babies: the next 30 years. He highlights this section:

There’s speculation that people will have designer babies, but I don’t think the data are there to support that. The spectre of people wanting the perfect child is based on a false premise. No single gene predicts blondness or thinness or height or whatever the ‘perfect baby’ looks like. You might find genetic contributors but there are so many environmental factors too.

The details are important here. Height is a tough cookie; it seems like there are going to at least hundreds of loci which control most of the normal human variation (if not thousands). But blondness is a bad example; pigmentation is only controlled by a few loci. Getting a fix on OCA2, SLC45A2, SLC24A5 and KITLG will get you what you want. That doesn’t mean the parents don’t have to have the variation necessary, they do, but they can probably guarantee a little blonde beast if they have the potentiality. And it seems that this really isn’t a function of the genetic future, the number of embryos parents would need to guarantee a little Aryan baby if they both have Aryan blood isn’t that high (probably 10-100 embryos depending on the purity of Aryan blood of the parents).

In any case, read the Genetic Future post for the bigger picture.


  1. #1 Daniel MacArthur
    July 19, 2008

    I wondered about the blondness thing as well, but figured she was technically correct in that there is “no single gene” for this. But as you note, pigmentation characteristics are going to be a hell of a lot more amenable to screening than most traits. It will be interesting to see what effect this has in societies like Brazil where pigmentation can have a profound impact on status – I guess people are already doing this in a messy way through assortative mating, but maybe this will speed things up (at least among those who can afford the process!)

  2. #2 razib
    July 19, 2008

    blue eyes is quasi-mendelian. 3/4 of the variation is on the herc2-oca2 locus. i think that’s probably one of the first things where you’ll see selective implantations, or, selective abortions for those too poor to do the whole in vitro business.

  3. #3 Bert
    July 19, 2008

    I’ve read the article, interesting. But I don’t think people are looking for ways to change pigmentation or hair colour. My guess is that the first thing parents want is a healthy baby. Nowadays that is done, f.i., by embryo selection in the case of future parents who have a nasty genetic disorder in the family.

    In Holland embryo selection stirred up some commotion with the christian coalition partners of our government. Appearantly their grassroots aren’t to happy with these kinds of reproductive techniques.

    My guess is that in the future a group of people which do not have objections to genetical engineering of their future offspring, will have healthier and maybe more inteligent children than the rest of society. More orthodox christian groups probably won’t do genetical engineering.

    Perhaps the part of humankind which embraces genetical engineering might outperform the part that doesn’t.

    Oh well, it’s just a thought.

  4. #4 paavo
    July 19, 2008

    i guess people are not interested in having a perfect baby. they’ll be happy to have the best baby possible. and that’s what they have in mind when they’re selecting spouses and sex partners. consciously or unconsciously.

    my moral-system is clear. I want my children to be happy and have happy children themselves. I’m consciously and subconsciously looking for a spouse that will give me and egg and uterus to make a baby, genes that will make happy and succesful children, and culture habits and stability (i.e. the environment) to make happy and succesful children.

    any help will be great. gene tests and personality tests. but of course, know one wants a man who’s looking for a wife with gene and personality tests. so i have to pretend to believe in romance

  5. #5 razib
    July 19, 2008

    More orthodox christian groups probably won’t do genetical engineering.

    there’ll be latency, but i think i’ll join the band-wagon. christians have no problems with in vitro and fertility treatment.

  6. #6 Bert
    July 20, 2008

    there’ll be latency, but i think i’ll join the band-wagon. christians have no problems with in vitro and fertility treatment.

    A lot of Dutch orthodox protestants still don’t vaccinate their children on religious grounds. Abortion is an even bigger issue, many of the mainstream christians have problems with it. They are rather slow with that band-wagon.

    Genetical engineering really takes ethical questions to a new level. Most people will probably say, when asked about it, that it’s like playing god.

    With for instance vaccination and abortion different christian groups will draw a line at a different point in time. “For our group up to here and no further!”. My guess is that a larger portion of the christians (and maybe other groups) will draw that line rather sooner and firmer in the case of genetical engineering.

    It will be interesting to see what happens if non-christian groups embrace genetical engineering fullheartedly.

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