• Question: can we make the perfect baby using genetics? if so why dont we?

    Asked by hectorlewis123 on 7 Jan 2019. This question was also asked by lectureattendee.
    • Photo: Judith Sleeman

      Judith Sleeman answered on 7 Jan 2019:

      What’s your definition of ‘perfect’?

      I expect we would all have different answers. Even if we could agree on that, we can’t yet make a human with a genetic make-up fully designed in the lab, not least because we don’t know what most of the genome does!

    • Photo: Richard Milne

      Richard Milne answered on 8 Jan 2019:

      The main reason we don’t and shouldn’t is the problem Judith raises – how would we define ‘perfect’? And following on from that, who would get to define ‘perfect’, and what happens to those who aren’t ‘perfect’? Eugenics programmes of the early 20th century which pursued similar ideas caused enormous harm to great numbers of people.

    • Photo: Gill Harrison

      Gill Harrison answered on 9 Jan 2019:

      That’s quite a deep and meaningful question. I wonder what ‘perfect’ is? Your parents probably think you are the ‘perfect’ child on a good day. But your best friend’s parents probably think they are the ‘perfect child’ (most parents think this).

      If we decided what was ‘perfect’ would that mean we were all the same?
      I wonder how anything would get done if we were all the same. When you work in a team you need to find out what each person can contribute, what their strengths and weaknesses are and then utilise those. If we were all the same we would all like the same things and probably things would be quite boring.

      Also what would happen if the perfect person had an accident and say lost a finger, they would not fit in with the rest of the world’s view of perfect, which I think would be terribly sad.

    • Photo: Emma Meaburn

      Emma Meaburn answered on 16 Jan 2019: last edited 16 Jan 2019 9:55 am

      Great question. and lots to discuss here! As the other scientists note, what is perfect for one person will not be perfect for another. Ethical and social issues aside (and it is obviously very problematic ethically to go down this route), I don’t think it is feasible even if we had the technology to do it. This is because human intelligence, behaviours, and physical attributes (height, weight, etc) result from the combined action of many tens of thousands of individual genetic influences in addition to environmental factors. We are getting some idea of what these genetic factors are, but would you be able to ‘tweak’ all of them in an individual? Unlikely. Most importantly, these genetic factors do more than one thing so changing this information will have knock-on effects in other areas that we can’t fully predict. Finally, genes are only part of the picture, we know the environment has a really big role but for most things we still some way behind understanding what the relevant environments are (diet, parental behaviours, etc) or how they work in concert with your genes to shape who we eventually become.

    • Photo: Omar Mahroo

      Omar Mahroo answered on 20 Jan 2019:

      Interesting question! If we were trying to make someone who would be at risk of no medical problems, one issue is that some versions of genes make you less likely to get certain diseases, but more likely to get other diseases, so you wouldn’t ever be able to get it “perfect”. And we don’t even know what most of the genetic information does anyway!