US genomics company patents tailor-made babies but denies plans to ever use it

23andMe have denied that they ever intend to pursue the patent, which offers parents the chance to select traits desired in their babies

Should we be able to tailor-make our children? It is a question that has been fiercely debated in recent times, picking up interest as quickly as the technology surrounding it has progressed.

Now, a patent acquired by 23andMe, a US genomics and biotechnology company, has been made public that seemingly outlines the technology for parents to custom design their babies. 23andMe have denied any such plans, however.

23andMe, who are based in California, are best known for their personal DNA test kits. For $99 (£61), a kit can be ordered, supplying the buyer with instructions on how to collect their own DNA in the form of a saliva sample.

After sending it back to the lab, buyers can expect to receive information on future health risks, DNA relatives and their ancestral history within months. The results can range from a susceptibility to diabetes to a family relative that you never knew existed.

But now, with 23andMe’s patent being made public this week, there has been speculation as to whether the company plan to take things one step further. The patent appears to offer prospective parents the opportunity to pick and choose their future child’s genetic make-up.

There’s also a section on preference towards eye colour, another on likelihood of the child becoming a long distance runner and, somewhat bizarrely, the choice of whether the child has a low – or high – probability of contracting a range of diseases.

However, 23andMe have reacted to the speculation by making a post on their blog denying any claims that they plan to follow-up on the plans outlined in the patent. “The company never pursued the concepts discussed in the patent beyond our Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, nor do we have any plans to do so,” the author of the blog post said.

“Applying for patents is a normal part of our business and we remain committed to our core principals of giving people access to their own genetic data, innovating the model for research and being transparent with our customers about what we are doing.”

An image from 23andMe's patent application showing the gene selection calculator.

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