May 26, 2024

21st-century eugenics

Hi there,

The Google of genetics, a California company called 23andme (after our 23 chromosomes) has denied that it is in the business of providing toolkits for creating designer babies. (See story below.) Instead, it just wants to provide consumers with better ways to manage their health and their children’s health.

Could be. But it’s more likely that it is simply unsure of what the market wants. The company has been re-inventing itself over the past year. It slashed the price of its spit kit, hired a CEO whose expertise is selling luxury goods online and launched a slick TV advertisement. And it is moving heaven and earth to get 1 million people on its database. “With a million people, we become disruptive,” says co-founder Anne Wojcicki.

Designing babies may not be a major product, but it will surely be one of them, along with ancestry research and detection of genetic diseases. 23andme is lean, mean and hungry – it will supply whatever the market wants. And if the market wants designer babies, why not?

We are accustomed to think of eugenics as a dark government-run totalitarian program to eliminate people who are regarded as unfit, disabled and racially inferior. But those days are over. Twenty-first Century eugenics will be a pastel-coloured, smiley, do-it-yourself, consumer-driven project. And if it ever happens, I think that it will look a lot like 23andme.

Michael Cook
A brash genetic testing company, 23andme, is well-placed to enter the designer baby market.