Custom Babies? Ethical Issues Loom as DNA Tech Advances

Austen Heinz has seen the future of human reproduction, and it’s not one that everyone will like.

“Every human being will be designed on a computer, and that’s something we’re starting right now with Happy Healthy Baby,” says Mr. Heinz, founder and CEO of Cambrian Genomics. The company, backed by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, is part of a new wave of DNA technology firms that promise to make it far cheaper and easier to create and manipulate the building blocks of life.

Ethical questions have long loomed large in the field of DNA science, and recent technological advances have made them more urgent than ever. A new method for replacing genes in embryos and other cells, known as “CRISPR/Cas9 editing,” is so promising that a genetically modified human baby could come far sooner than is generally understood.

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“I always have concerns about new technologies, I think it’s healthy to have broad discussions with multiple disciplines,” Mr. Church says. “And of course whenever there is international economic competition that always makes it more alarming, but I think the benefits so far seem to greatly outweigh the risks.”

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To prevent prevent people from synthesizing dangerous diseases like smallpox, a voluntary consortium of nine DNA manufactures has a blacklist of certain DNA sequences.