Designer Babies

Pros and Cons of Stem Cells and Custom Babies

A close-up of genetic manipulation of a cell
••• CHRISTIAN DARKIN / Getty Images

Developments in genetic research and in vitro techniques for reproduction have led some to theorize that, in the near future, wanna-be parents will be able to create designer babies with the specific traits they desire: Essentially, GM humans.

Current Status

While the technology isn't yet available, the fact that people are talking about it means there are laboratories willing to make the effort to make it possible, no matter what the ethical costs. At this point in time, we only just beginning to understand how sex is determined in an embryo or the epigenetic controls that cause one gene to be preferentially expressed over another during blastocyst development. This kind of knowledge could then conceivably be applied to test-tube babies, but we are a long way off from that yet.


As we learn more about stem cells and the differentiation of pluripotent cells and epigenetics, the concept of controlling cell differentiation becomes more real. If we can control tissue formation and the size and shape of organs and the expression of genes controlling human traits, we can make designer babies.

The conclusion of the human genome project has also contributed to this fantasy of GM children since scientists have now sequenced each and every gene in the human cell and we are also well on our way to determining the function of each.


  • People get what they want in at least the physical features of the child they conceive.
  • Inheritable genetic diseases could be avoided.


  • It just seems unethical to control what someone will look like before they're even born. Maybe you think it's attractive to be tall, or blonde, but maybe he/she will always wish for an athletic body and dark hair. Why not just leave it to chance?