question archive Designer babies The topic of your lesson this week is Biotechnology and Genomics

Designer babies The topic of your lesson this week is Biotechnology and Genomics

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Designer babies

The topic of your lesson this week is Biotechnology and Genomics. A designer baby is a human embryo which has been genetically modified, usually following guidelines set by the parent or scientist, to produce desirable traits. This is done using various methods, such as germline engineering or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This technology is the subject of ethical debate, bringing up the concept of genetically modified "superhumans" to interbreed with and eventually replace modern humans.

Creating genetically modified children is no longer a science fiction fantasy, it's likely a future scenario. Biologist Paul Knoepfler estimates that within fifteen years, scientists could use the gene-editing technology CRISPR to make certain 'upgrades' to human embryos-from altering appearances to eliminating the risk of auto-immune diseases.

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis has the ability to select an embryo based on gender preferences. Since changing gender is not needed, but desired this could cause much controversy. Additionally, the procedure is able to create a donor offspring or a “savior sibling”, which can assist a pre-existing offspring for medical purposes. PGD can help select desirable traits by avoiding implanting embryos with genes that have serious diseases or disabilities.

Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing is used to match patients and donors for bone marrow or cord blood transplants. HLA are proteins, or markers, found on most cells of your body. Your immune system uses these markers to recognize which cells belong in your body and which do not. It's a donor whose HLA is very closely matched to the recipients. The best donors for HLA are siblings. Siblings are more closely matched than non-siblings.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an assisted reproductive technology (ART) commonly referred to as IVF. IVF is the process of fertilization by extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus.

The first designer baby in the United States was Adam Nash was from Colorado in 1990. In 1989 Adam Nash was conceived to save his 6 year old sister Molly, who was dying from an extremely rare genetic disease called Fanconi anemia (Links to an external site.). This rare bone marrow failure disease is passed down through families as an autosomal recessive disease. It results in decreased production of all types of red blood cells. Molly was unable to find a bone marrow match for a transplant. Through IVF, HLA Typing, and PGD, the Nash family had Adam. He had the stem cells in his umbilical cord that would save her life. Molly is now 23 years old. The Nash family went on to have a third, healthy child through IVF, again selecting an embryo without the Fanconi gene. The book My Sister's Keeper (2009) was written by Jodi Picoult and loosely based on the Nash family. It is now a movie starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin.

Britain's first designer baby was Jodie, born in 2005. Her older brother Joshua had a rare, incurable bone marrow disease called Diamond Blackfin Anemia.

Take it one step further...In 2018 in China, genetics researcher He Jiankui at the Southern University of Science and Technology used a DNA editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9 on human embryos to create twin girls with a modification to reduce the rick of HIV infection. His team performed "gene surgery" on embryos created from their parents' sperm and eggs to protect the children from the human immunodeficiency virus which causes AIDS. The father is HIV positive.

For your assignment:

  • Watch the videoTED Talks The ethical dilemma of designer babies - Paul Knoepfler (Links to an external site.)
  • Watch the video Moral Dilemma: Saviour Sibling or Spare Part Baby? (Links to an external site.)
  • Read CRISPR-Cas9 (Links to an external site.) and WatchCRISPR Basics (Links to an external site.)

From the information given in the videos and the reading, answer each question below in numbered paragraphs 

1. In the TEDTalk, Paul Knoepfler talked about two hypothetical kids, Jenna and Maryann. Describe what he said were the differences between a "natural' kid and a "GM' kid.2. Describe what kind of risks/issues, good and bad, can be seen with these "GM" kids?3. Explain how CRISPR-Cas9 (Links to an external site.) is used to create GM kids.4. Is it wrong to produce designer babies, tested to ensure the absence of harmful genes, to be tissue donors for sick siblings? Share your thoughts.5. Read your classmate's posts and respond to one student whose thoughts about designer babies used to treat sick siblings were different from yours.

It will be necessary for you to find sources to get information on your stories. Remember to always give credit or cite your source information. This should be written in your own words. You show understanding of the topic when you can summarize it without using the same phrases or word choices as the original sites or videos. Changing a few words in a sentence is still plagiarism. The link below is a good tutorial about avoiding plagiarism in your writing.

Cite your sources using APA style. The website below has information to help you cite your source(s) correctly. (Links to an external site.)

Hover over "Citation Guides" to choose the correct type of source.

Choose reliable sources like those found using the article database University library (Today's Science and Science in Context by Gale are great), information from universities, and governmental websites ( Wikipedia and personal websites/blogs are not good sources.


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