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Crystal Ball for Embryos

As predicting someone's chances of developing complex disease becomes more refined, those same tools could be applied to forecast other traits, even later-life intelligence among embryos, writes Antonio Regalado at Technology Review.

The startup Genomic Prediction is working on ways to determine whether IVF embryos are likely to develop complex diseases like type 1 diabetes, schizophrenia, and osteoporosis as adults to help doctors and parents choose ones for implantation, he adds. But, Regalado notes, once you're there testing for something medical, it's easy to look at complex non-medical traits — including height and intelligence.

While Genomic Prediction says it will only report disease risk, two of its founders, Stephen Hsu and Laurent Tellier, have been involved in a study in China that is sequencing the genomes of mathematical geniuses, Regalado says, raising the concern that their vision might go further.

Natera's CEO Matthew Rabinowitz tells him, though that the predictors aren't quite there yet. Still, Hsu tells Regalado that selecting embryos based on intelligence will become possible. "But we've said that we as a company are not going to do it. It's a difficult issue, like nuclear weapons or gene editing," he adds. "There will be some future debate over whether this should be legal, or made illegal."