New service creates virtual babies for worried mothers

Michael Cook
11 Apr 2014
Reproduced with Permission

An American businesswoman and an Ivy League scientist have teamed up to create a sophisticated service for reducing genetic diseases for lesbian couples and single women. Anne Morriss and Lee Silver, of Princeton, have founded Genepeeks, a company which will identify the sperm donors who have the best chance of producing a disease-free baby.

Using Silver's patented gene analysis technology, Matchright, Genepeeks will create "virtual babies" for the woman and a range of possible sperm donors and screen out donors with a flawed genetic profile. Matchright screens for hundreds of diseases, but also other features, like eye colour and height. Morriss and Silver insist, however, that the technology will not be used to create genetically engineered children.

However, Silver, the author of pop science books like Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family (1998) and Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life (2006) is an apostle of genetic engineering and even human cloning.

Genepeeks will have to be prepared for stiff opposition.

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, in California, told BBC News that its service was "highly irresponsible".

"It amounts to shopping for designer donors in an effort to produce designer babies. We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus for which to choose a future child's traits. A project like this would also be ethically and socially treacherous."