It seems we may be heading into a new era of eugenics, and in the future, instead of choosing to settle with partners we love, we may be choosing them based on the compatibility of our genes, a leading scientist has warned.
Professor Armand Leroi, of Imperial College London, predicts that the ever declining cost of DNA testing means that we may be heading toward a society that is based on genetic superiority.
Leroi told the Euroscience Open Forum 2012, in Dublin, that he expects that in five to 10 years, it will become standard practice for young people to pay to access their entire genetic code, according to The Telegraph.
Naturally, the future generation's desire to have a healthy baby will then lead them to request access to view the genetic blueprint of any prospective long-term partner.
He told researchers attending the major science conference in Dublin that with the information, future couples could then use IVF to weed out offspring with incurable disease.
However, he added that it is unlikely that people will have the "luxury" of using the technology to design babies by intellect or eye color, but will instead focus on stopping genetic diseases.
Speaking in a session titled “I human: are new scientific discoveries challenging our identity as a species”, Leroi said the cost of genetic sequencing has been falling so quickly that “it is going to become very, very accessible, very, very soon”.
As an example, he said that the cost of genetically sequencing a person has fallen from $1 billion more than a decade ago to about $4,000.
He noted that in some ways eugenics are already here, with tens of thousands of babies with Down’s syndrome and other illnesses being aborted every year.
"These processes are very well established in most European countries," he told the conference on Thursday. "Many of the ethical problems that people raise when they speak of neoeugenics are nought once you offer gene selection or mate selection as a eugenic tool. We are actually beginning to identify the genes that make a human.”
"The search for an essence is a 2,000-year-old myth. What we are left with is a sense of capacity and the role of genes in the way they give us these things," he added. “I am certain genome sequencing will be available on the NHS (UK health service) within our lifetimes. It is going to be very, very accessible very, very soon.”
Danish neurobiologist Lone Frank predicts that some countries will embrace the idea.
"Some cultures will say, 'Let’s get a lot of genomes out on the table and see who’s got the best one'," she said, according to the Daily Mail. However, she added that others will see it as an attempt to play God.
Philippa Taylor, of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said that society must "recognize and resist the eugenic mind set," the Daily Mail reported.
"Our society’s increasing obsession with celebrity status, physical perfection and high intelligence fuels the view that the lives of people with disabilities or genetic diseases are somehow less worth living," Taylor said to the UK-based paper.
"We must recognize and resist the eugenic mind set. Our priorities should be to develop treatments and supportive measures for those with genetic disease; not to search them out and destroy them before birth," she added.