College graduates more likely to use gene-editing technology

Study that asked Americans if they would use genetic screening or gene editing to improve chances of offspring getting into a leading university triggers warning of increased educational inequalities

February 9, 2023
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One in four Americans would use genetic technology to increase their chances of having a child who gets into a top college, a study suggests.

The paper, published in the journal Science, also shows that college graduates are more willing to use the largely unregulated process.

Researchers examined the attitudes of 6,800 Americans toward using preimplantation genetic testing for polygenic disorders (PGT-P) which, in conjunction with IVF, allows parents to choose which embryos to take, based on the strength of their genes.

Authors said little is known of public attitudes towards PGT-P, which can be used to make risk assessments for serious diseases, as well as to select for specific attributes, including educational attainment.

Results showed that 38 per cent of people were more likely than not to use the technology to increase their odds of a child getting into a top 100-ranked college, assuming that they were already using IVF.

The study also found that 28 per cent of parents would use gene editing – the use of which in humans is considered controversial – to boost their odds.

Those surveyed were told that each service would raise their likelihood of having a child who attended a top college by a “realistic amount”, from 3 to 5 per cent, and that all options were free and safe.

By comparison, 68 per cent of respondents said they would probably give their child preparation classes ahead of taking the leading US college admissions test, the SAT.

Results also showed that those who had at least a bachelor’s degree, as well as those under 35, were more likely to say that PGT-P, gene-editing and SAT classes were morally acceptable, as well as being more likely to use them all.

Authors noted that this could “reflect parents’ tendency to try to mirror their own educational outcomes in the outcomes of their offspring”.

But they warned that over time – with the gains from PGT-P complimenting each other through the generations – this could “exacerbate existing inequalities”.

The study said that although PGT-P is available in IVF clinics worldwide, it remains unregulated in the US and has received far less attention and discussion than gene editing such as CRISPR, the developers of which were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2020.

Survey participants were even more likely to use PGT-P and gene-editing when told that most people in their position would do the same, which researchers suggested could produce a modest “bandwagon effect”.

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