Can You Make My Kid Smarter?

A dispatch from the frontiers of 21st century genetics

  • Share
  • Read Later

Just as their marketing consultant had predicted, a simple name change spawned an explosive growth in the customer base of the St. Genevieve fertility clinic. Only 10 months earlier, in April 2024, the clinic had begun its new advertising campaign for "Organic Enhancement" on websites frequented by women with babymaking on their minds.

"Why not give your child the best possible start in life?" was the tease. A few seconds of eye focus on the ad automatically brought viewers to St. Gen's home page, where they could see the full pitch:

"Consider using our patented Organic Enhancement protocol to provide your child with all-natural resistance to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke and eight different forms of cancer, as well as absolute protection against aids, allergies, asthma and Alzheimer's disease. But keep in mind, you must act before you get pregnant. Don't be sorry after she's born. This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for your child-to-be."

The response was immediate and enormous. The market for organic enhancement of newly fertilized embryos quickly overtook infertility treatment. Ironically, most of the prospective parents who now crowded the waiting room at the St. Gen "fertility" clinic had no fertility problems at all.

The outcry from long-standing critics was also immediate. They pointed out that St. Gen's "enhancement" technology added new genes to every cell in a child's body. Furthermore, there was a very good chance the child would pass these genetic alterations on to her children as well. "Wasn't this simply germ-line genetic engineering with a new name?" they asked wryly.

The St. Gen spokeswoman responded that anyone could call the technology whatever they wanted, but Organic Enhancement was the term St. Genevieve had chosen to use. "This is entirely appropriate," she said with a straight face, "since the DNA molecules added to embryos are totally organic." She noted also that the treatment was "all-natural," since the added genes were produced naturally by cultured cells and were indistinguishable from those found in other members of the human population.

Germ-line genetic engineering was first performed successfully on animals and plants in the 1980s. By the end of the 2nd millennium, no geneticist doubted the potential for applying the technology to humans as well. But at that time, scientific understanding of human genes was still fragmentary.

The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 changed everything. The project itself provided scientists with a catalog of every human gene. But over the following decade, pharmaceutical companies put this catalog to use in studies of very large numbers of people. Among the many important findings of these studies was the discovery that for nearly every disease, there were at least a small number of people who carried specific and powerful "protecting" genes. By 2020, the list of such "natural protection" genes had expanded dramatically to cover all major infectious and noninfectious diseases.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2