tem who analyzes issues in reproductive
genetics. “Here is the genomic dossier on
each embryo. And you flip through the
book.” Imagine picking the embryo most
likely to get into Harvard like Mom, or to
be tall like Dad.
For Genomic Prediction, a tiny startup
based at a tech incubator in New Jersey,
such questions will be especially sharply
drawn. That is because of Hsu’s long-standing interest in genetic selection
for superior intelligence. In 2014, Hsu
authored an essay titled “
Super-Intelli-gent Humans Are Coming,” in which he
argued that selecting embryos for intelligence could boost the resulting child’s
IQ by 15 points.
Genomic Prediction says it will only
report diseases—that is, identify those
embryos it thinks would develop into people with serious medical problems. Even
so, on his blog and in public statements,
Hsu has for years been developing a vision
that goes far beyond that.
“Suppose I could tell you embryo four
is going to be the tallest, embryo three is
going to be the smartest, embryo two is
going to be very antisocial. Suppose that
level of granularity was available in the
reports,” he told the conservative radio personality Stefan Molyneux this spring. “That
is the near-term future that we as a civilization face. This is going to be here.”
The fuel for the predictive models is a
deluge of new data, most recently genetic
readouts and medical records for 500,000
middle-aged Britons that were released
in July by the UK Biobank, a national
The data trove included, for each
volunteer, a map of about 800,000
single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or
SNPs—points where their DNA differs
slightly from another person’s. The release
caused a pell-mell rush by geneticists to
“This would completely
change her world.”
—Brett Kopelan, executive director of the
Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Research
Association of America, on the potential of gene
therapy to help his 10-year-old daughter and
others with devastating skin disorders.
“To believe we can solve
the greatest of all problems
in the next few weeks
or months is a bit too
—Tomaso Poggio, a professor at the Mc Govern
Institute for Brain Research, on the hype
surrounding artificial intelligence.
“We should be getting ready
for bigger fire years.”
—Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia
University, on the e;ect of climate change on
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of countries where social media was
used to influence elections in 2017, according to
the democracy advocacy group Freedom Now.
Number of operations a man named Brian
Madeux has undergone for complications
related to Hunter syndrome. In November
Madeux became the first person to o;cially
have gene editing take place inside his body, via
a treatment from Sangamo Therapeutics.
Proportion of jobs created since 2010 that require
at least moderate digital skills, according to a
November report from the Brookings Institution.
Number of the world’s 500 fastest supercom-puters that are currently located in China. The
U.S., in comparison, has 144 of them.
cal curve for disorders such as diabetes,
late-life osteoporosis, schizophrenia, and
dwarfism, depending on whether models
for those problems prove accurate.
The company’s concept, which it calls
expanded preimplantation genetic testing,
or ePGT, would e;ectively add a range of
common disease risks to the menu of rare
ones already available, which it also plans
to test for. Its promotional material uses
a picture of a mostly submerged iceberg
to get the idea across. “We believe it will
become a standard part of the IVF process,” says Tellier, just as a test for Down
syndrome is a standard part of pregnancy.
Some experts say it’s premature to
introduce polygenic scoring technology
into IVF clinics—though perhaps not by
very much. Matthew Rabinowitz, CEO of
the California-based prenatal-testing company Natera, says he thinks predictions
obtained today could be “largely misleading” because DNA models don’t function
well enough. But Rabinowitz agrees that
the technology is coming along.
“You are not going to stop the modeling in genetics, and you are not going to
stop people from accessing it,” he says. “It’s
going to get better and better.”
Testing embryos for disease risks, including risks for diseases that develop only
late in life, is considered ethically acceptable by U.S. fertility doctors. But the new
DNA scoring models mean parents might
be able to choose their kids on the basis
of traits like IQ or adult weight. That’s
because, just like type 1 diabetes, these
traits are the result of complex genetic
influences the predictor algorithms are
designed to find.
“It’s the camel’s nose under the tent.
Because if you are doing it for something
more serious, then it’s trivially easy to look
for anything else,” says Michelle Meyer, a
bioethicist at the Geisinger Health Sys-