Saturday, March 28, 2015

What if you could see what your child would look liks as an adult?

Researchers have been working to produce images of adults, relying on their DNA alone.

This effort is of interest to criminal investigations. Say someone who has committed a murder leaves only a DNA sample behind, in the form of blood or hair. If criminal investigators have no other evidence to go on, it will be difficult to identify suspects, if that DNA is not already in their data banks.  They will not have any idea, for example, of what the suspect would look like.

But DNA phenotyping works to project an image of what someone with that DNA would look like.  The results so far are not perfect, but I imagine that they will be refined over time, as more and more associations between DNA and its influence on appearance become better known.

That's one use of DNA phenotyping, but it might also be used to project images of what an embryo or fetus might look like.  DNA can be cultivated from embryos and fetuses, and the same projective techniques might be used.

Would it be okay -- as a matter of ethics -- to select an embryo when trying to have a child on the basis of its projected appearance as an adult? Would it be okay to select against a fetus for the same reason, namely its projected appearance?

These are interesting questions, and I've said more about them at the Hastings Center Bioethics forum: