- POSTED: 04 Oct 2013 11:54
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A Silicon Valley company offering a low cost DNA profiling service has sparked fresh debate over science and ethics, after winning patent rights for a tool that can identify traits a child might inherit from the person profiled.
California: The 'designer baby' debate has resurfaced with an American personal-genomics company, 23andMe, being awarded patent rights for its 'Family Trait Inheritance Calculator' described as "a fun way to look at such things as what eye colour their child might have".
The Silicon Valley company started a service in 2006 to collect and provide customer analysis about health and ancestry traits.
The service, which is available online at a low cost, is based on a saliva test sent to the company using its own set of test kits.
Basing the company name and business on the 23 human chromosomes in each person, 23andMe says that it's aim is to help individuals understand their own genetic information using recent advances in DNA analysis technologies and web-based interactive tools.
However, some say that such analysis could lead to "designer babies," a long-standing controversy where genes could be selected to boost the chances of a child having certain physical attributes, such as a particular eye or hair colour.
The business founded by a trio that includes Google co-founder Sergey Brin, said in a recent blog that it had been awarded a patent for the 'Family Trait Inheritance Calculator' which was applied for some five years ago.
"The tool offers people an enjoyable way to dip their toes into genetics. It aligns nicely with our goal to introduce people to their DNA and help them better understand the science of genetics, which can sometimes be complicated" said the company.
Scientists point out that the technique could potentially be used to create healthier babies, by screening out donors with genes that are predisposed to disease, either on their own, or in combination with the recipient's genes.
The company admitted that when it applied for the patent more than five years ago,"there was consideration that the technology could have potential applications for fertility clinics so language specific to the fertility treatment process was included in the patent."
"But much has evolved in that time, including 23andMe’s strategic focus.
"The company never pursued the concepts discussed in the patent beyond our Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, nor do we have any plans to do so" said the blog.
Some point out that the latest concerns are no different to the questions of ethics raised decades ago when IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and test tube babies were new concepts to the world.
Others however state that such advances in the science of genomes, means that those with the right resources will be able to bio-engineer their children to have a edge in society, creating an even larger social divide some day.