A genetics expert predicts couples in the future will turn to the lab instead of sex to conceive children.
There's good news for parents who dread the day their little kid approaches them, eyes all wide, and hesitantly asks: "Where do babies come from?"
Because the answer may one day simply be, "The lab."
According to genetics expert Henry Greely—a professor at Stanford—sex for the sake of baby-making will soon be obsolete, as couples opt for designer embryos conceived and chosen in the laboratory instead.
Greely, who has written a book about this, called The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction, is convinced we will all be so worried about genetic diseases in the future that we won't risk leaving anything to nature. Which means, sometime within the next 20 to 40 years, most couples will conceive using IVF.
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Here's how he said it will work: After a couple decides they want a baby, the guy will provide scientists with sperm and the woman will give up a skin sample, which will then be used to make stem cells and create eggs. Everything will then be sent off to a lab to create 100 embryos, the best of which will be chosen to be implanted into the woman's womb.
"Prospective parents will be told: 'These five have really serious diseases, you don't want them'," he explained. "Of the other 95, they will be given the pluses and minuses."
Greely said couples will basically be able to choose the cosmetic features and intelligence of their children, with the embryos being divided into four categories. The first category will be the ones with dangerous, untreatable disease. The second will be embryos with other, less severe illnesses. The third will be associated with cosmetic features (hair, eyes, shape), and the fourth one will be based on behavioral characteristics, though Greely says the information here will be limited.
"We won't be able to say: 'This child is in the top one percent of intelligence,'" he explained. "We probably will be able to say: 'This child has a 60 percent chance of being in the top half.'"
Pretty cool, right? But are made-to-order babies ethical? As strange as it sounds, Greely said this type of genetic engineering would actually save the NHS millions of dollars because they wouldn't have to treat children for illnesses. In fact, he believes this method may become so widespread that traditional procreation will one day be considered irresponsible.
"Particularly in countries where you pay for healthcare socially," he explained. "If children are born after this there is a possibility there may be a stigma to doing so naturally."
A moment of silence for good old sexy baby-making as we know it.