What if you could design the perfect child?

A science-fiction take on the future of CRISPR and embro editing.

In October 2018, a rogue Chinese scientist reportedly used the editing tool CRISPR on the DNA of twin embryos to make them resistant to HIV. The following work of fiction imagines a future where parents could access the same technology and Build-a-Baby.

Becca had green eyes and Charlie had brown, but their daughter was born with an exquisite blend of both. When Sam asked if they’d specially requested hazel, the couple was coy.

“We told the techs to let the embryo just do its thing,” Charlie said. “I figure we’d meddled enough, having sperm spun out of my skin’s stem cells so we wouldn’t need a donor. Of course, the clinic offered to let us make a few tweaks by introducing an engineered virus to edit her DNA, but—”

“—but you know no one has ever managed to upsell me on anything,” Becca said with a snort. “Anyway, I knew we didn’t need it. She was bound to be a gorgeous kid.”

Sam mm-hmmed in agreement but thought to herself that maybe their fertility specialist had been a little too heavy-handed. Still, it was hard to argue with the results: Pictures of all those cherubic CRISPR kids made for damn good advertising when she and her partner, Dana, made their own visit to the clinic, a few months after Becca and Charlie announced their pregnancy.

“By signing here you’re giving us permission to fix any genetic anomalies we find in the course of creating your embryo,” the nurse explained at the appointment.

Dana nibbled her lip. “How do you define that though?”

“Oh, it’s all a bunch of technical jargon,” the nurse said. “Obviously you don’t want us keeping a gene associated with high cancer risk?”

“I guess that’s reasonable,” Dana muttered, still scanning the dense document. “And what is it you were saying about the special offer?”

“Ah, yes,” the nurse said. “With our standard package for same-sex parents, we’re throwing in two bonus boosters that swap in DNA with tested improvements. Our most popular enhancements are intelligence and beauty, but we have athletic and artistic options too.”

Sam could see her wife gearing up for a retort, so she grabbed her hand.

“Dana,” she pleaded. “Don’t you want to have a baby? Our perfect baby?”

“OK, but what if some of these supposed edits go wrong? What if we’re setting our great-grandchildren up for some catastrophic genetic plague?”

“All procedures come with a 20-year warranty for free repairs,” the nurse interjected.

“See?” Sam squeezed her hand. “They’ve got it covered.”

Besides, it was clear that everyone else was giving their embryos a head start. She wouldn’t want their child to get left behind.

This story appeared in the Spring 2020, Origins issue of Popular Science.