Research into human genetics is mostly seen as a department of science through which many incurable or in-borne disorders may be cured in the future. Scientists have made immense progress in uncovering the mysteries of the human genome. A recent experiment was also able to successfully use the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system to replace a heart-disease causing mutation in a human embryo with a healthy gene.

This editing or changing the genetic structure or composition of a human embryo has now led to experts asking several ethical questions. Many are worried that through these methods, parents may want to design their babies while in the mother’s womb to present certain desirable characteristics upon birth, such as attractiveness or a particular talent.

People are gripped by the fear that gene therapy will soon be able to create these ‘Designer Babies’ and present them with the traits that their parents want.

Thousands of genes need to be edited

This concept is at a nascent stage, and it will take a long time to design a baby as per parents' wishes. For instance, Gene Editing cannot enhance traits like intelligence or attractiveness or a particular talent. This is impossible mainly because such traits are controlled by thousands of different genes working together and not a single specific one. Scientists have a long way to go to identify even a small percentage of the genes’ activities.

Even to edit something as simple as the height of a person, scientists will have to edit around 93,000 genes present in the body.

A recent study published in Nature was able to identify just 697 of these genes, which shows that designing babies through gene editing would be tremendously complex. Even if one day, science is able to achieve this amount of knowledge regarding the human genome, it surely will not be any time in the foreseeable future.

Other problems

While cutting out the mutated gene causing the heart ailment in the recent study, scientists inserted a template gene which they thought would be used to replace the damaged one. However, this was not the case. Instead, once the mutated gene was removed, the body used the genetic sequence from the female or the mother to replace it.

This means that external genes cannot be inserted to the genome of the embryo and only the sequence from one of the parents is accepted by the body. Even if in the future genetic editing technology takes off, an embryo can only be induced a trait which is present in either of the parents.