The direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe, Mountain View, Calif, has just been awarded a patent for “gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations,” notes the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS), Berkeley, Calif, a nonprofit public affairs and policy advocacy organization that encourages “responsible uses and effective societal governance” of human genetic and reproductive biotechnologies.

CGS is calling on 23andMe to abstain from developing or offering any product or service based on this patent, and to use its patent to prevent others from doing so.

“It would be highly irresponsible for 23andMe or anyone else to offer a product or service based on this patent,” says Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, executive director, CGS. “It amounts to shopping for designer donors in an effort to produce designer babies. We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus from which to choose a future child’s traits.”

The “gamete donor selection” patent, which was granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on September 24, covers computer and genetic algorithms and methods that would purportedly identify prospective egg or sperm providers who would increase the likelihood of producing a baby with preselected traits. 23andMe now claims to have changed its mind since filing the application in 2009, and has said it has “no plans” to implement it.

“23andMe can demonstrate that it’s serious about acting responsibly on this matter by announcing that it will use the patent it now holds to prevent any other parties from adopting this technology,” Darnovsky says.


In a blog post, 23andMe presents its views and discusses its patent, its technology, and its intentions.

Click here to read the post.


According to the patent application, would-be parents could specify “phenotypes of interest in the hypothetical offspring,” and receive a report on the probabilities that using gametes from various providers would produce those traits, notes CGS. The traits mentioned in the patent include both risks of inherited diseases and traits such as height, weight, “muscle performance,” eye color, gender, and “personality characteristics.”

“Predicting the risk of most common diseases for an existing person has fallen far short of gene testing hype,” Darnovsky says. “Probabilistic estimates of a hypothetical child’s risks are even more scientifically dubious. Increasingly, scientists acknowledge that for many disease and nondisease traits, we don’t now know and may never find the so-called missing heritability.”

“But a project like this would also be ethically and socially treacherous,” Darnovsky says. “Would the company ensure that providers of sperm or eggs have given their consent to genetic testing? Would these people be informed of the findings? And what about 23andMe customers whose DNA was used to come up with the algorithms? They signed contracts that allowed the company to use their genetic data for research, but not to find ‘designer donors.'”

The larger societal concerns are extremely troubling, Darnovsky says. “This project could foster the false belief that biology trumps social, economic and environmental conditions in influencing our health and well-being. And it could encourage the dangerous idea that science should be used to breed ‘better’ people, breathing new life into the specter of eugenics that has long hung over the field of genetics.”

Note: CLP is sharing news from two sources, and as always, maintains a neutral viewpoint.

[Source: CGS and 23andMe]