US public open to genome editing and PGT-P to improve college prospects of offspring
Joel Mendes, Progress Educational Trust
13 February 2023

[BioNews, London]

A third of Americans said they would be likely to edit the genome of their embryos to improve the university admission chances of their offspring, and 43 percent would be happy to screen embryos for intelligence using polygenic risk scores.

A survey of public attitudes in the US towards genome editing and preimplantation genetic testing using polygenic risk scoring (PGT-P) published in Science also found 41 percent of those surveyed had no moral objection to the genetic editing of embryos despite genome editing of human embryos being illegal in most jurisdictions. A majority of 58 percent stated no moral objection to the use of PGT-P for the selection of embryos for medical or non-medical traits.

Given the lack of regulation of these technologies, the public support surprised the researchers. Lead author Michelle Meyer commented: 'I certainly don't think this is something good. I am concerned about it, the bigger risk is saying nothing and letting this unfold against a laissez-faire regulatory and market system.'

Polygenic screening of embryos is already offered for some traits by some clinics in the US despite its clinical value remaining unproven. To gauge public opinion on using emerging genomic technologies on embryos, economists and public health researchers from the National Bureau of Academic Research, University of South California, University of California Los Angeles, and Harvard University surveyed American adults on their opinions regarding the use of different forms of genetic selection, or genome editing, of embryos created during IVF.

Researchers asked the participants about their opinions on the morality of the three possible interventions to select for certain traits: PGT-P - a genetic test used to assess the risk of an individual embryo developing complex diseases based on the probability that present genetic variations are associated with these diseases, genome editing of IVF embryos (such as with CRISPR) and preparation courses for higher education entrance examinations – a non-genetic intervention that demonstrates attitudes towards higher education. The participants could state whether they felt these options were: morally acceptable, morally wrong, or not a moral issue.

Participants were then asked to rate their willingness out of 100 to use the three options if would increase the likelihood of their offspring being accepted by a top-100 university.

The researchers show some concern given the previous weak performance of polygenic risk scores as a predictor of disease. 'Polygenic indexes are already only weak predictors for most individual adult outcomes, especially for social and behavioural traits' said senior author Dr Patrick Turley. 'Polygenic indexes are designed to work in a different setting than an IVF clinic. These weak predictors will perform even worse when used to select embryos. '

Last year Progress Educational Trust, the charity which publishes BioNews, carried out a survey which found that those under 35 years were more likely to support embryo genome editing for preferred, non-medical traits.

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Reproduced from BioNews with permission, a web- and email-based source of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and human genetics, published by Progress Educational Trust.

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