An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Imagine that you were provided no-cost fertility treatment and also offered a free DNA test to gauge which of those little IVF embryos floating in a dish stood the best chance of getting into a top college someday. Would you have the test performed? If you said yes, you’re among about 40% percent of Americans who told pollsters they’d be more likely than not to test and pick IVF embryos for intellectual aptitude, despite hand-wringing by ethicists and gene scientists who think it’s a bad idea. The opinion survey, published in the journal Science, was carried out by economists and other researchers who say surprisingly strong support for the embryo tests means the US might need to hurry up and set policies for the technology.
The new poll compared people’s willingness to advance their children’s prospects in three ways: using SAT prep courses, embryo tests, and gene editing on embryos. It found some support even for the most radical option, genetic modification of children, which is prohibited in the US and many other countries. About 28% of those polled said they’d probably do that if it was safe. The authors of the new poll are wrestling with the consequences of information that they helped discover via a series of ever larger studies to locate genetic causes of human social and cognitive traits, including sexual orientation and intelligence. That includes a report published last year on how the DNA differences among more than 3 million people related to how far they’d gone in school, a life result that is correlated with a person’s intelligence.
The result of such research is a so-called “polygenic score,” or a genetic test that can predict from genes whether — among other things — someone is going to be more or less likely to attend college. Of course, environmental factors matter plenty, and DNA is not destiny. Yet the gene tests are surprisingly predictive. In their poll, the researchers told people to assume that around 3% of kids will go to a top-100 college. By picking the one of 10 IVF embryos with the highest gene score, parents would increase that chance to 5% for their kid. It’s tempting to dismiss the advantage gained as negligible, but “assuming they are right,” Carmi says, it’s actually “a very large relative increase” in the chance of going to such a school for the offspring in question — about 67%. “The current poll found only 6% of people are morally opposed to IVF today, only about 17% have strong moral qualms about testing embryos, and 38% would probably do to boost education prospects if given the opportunity,” adds the report.
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