Designer Genes: Custom-made babies?

Many couples choose to undergo in-vitro fertilization, or IVF, to have a baby.  That's where eggs and sperm are mixed in a lab, then implanted as an embryo. 

Jennifer Seals relied on IVF to have both of her children. 

"As things happen along the way, we had a few miscarriages, so it wasn't perfect, but we're thankful for science and what they can do, but I think we can get into dangerous territory when we try to take things into our own hands and try to control everything," says Jennifer. 

She's referring to the future of designer genes. Scientists have been closely studying how we're made up, through the Human Genome Project, and they're learning more about what makes up each and every one of us.

Jamie Metzl, author of "Hacking Darwin", says studies show we will be able to tweak them.  We're talking possibly custom-ordering a child, with everything from eye color to IQ, to how athletic or musical they'd be, and that's where it gets controversial. 

"It absolutely does (get controversial) and it should, because this is a big and challenging issue. We are going to know which kids have a greater than average chance of being fantastic sprinters or potentially great musicians or all sorts of things, and that's going to raise a lot of questions for us.  It's complicated, because people have this image of going to the human equivalent of the Build-a-Bear showroom in the local mall and say, 'I'll take one of these one of those,' and that's not how it's going to be, but we are going to increasingly continue to learn more about the possibilities," explains Metzl.

Many Houstonians we talked to aren't sure what to think about the future of gene-hacking, but most don't agree with custom-made babies.  Here are a few of their comments:  "That's not God's creation, so why would they do that?  That's wrong. That's just not right," says one woman.  "The limits of science are boundless, so we have to be careful about what we let happen," says another.

Couples can already have their embryos screened for diseases like sickle cell, muscular dystrophy, Huntington's Disease, and cystic fibrosis.  That's where Houstonians are more open-minded.

"It's good because there will be more healthy kids, but change the skin or color of eyes, we never know if it's going to be good or not," says one man.

RELATED: Designer Genes: Screening embryos to fight genetic diseases

Right now with IVF, most couples choose to create as few embryos as possible, so they won't be left in storage after the procedure, but Metzl says new technology, using a couple's blood, skin, and stem cells, may change the possibilities to produce a massive amount of embryos.

"Then the choice won't be among 10 or 15 embryos.  It may be among 10,000 embryos," exclaims Metzl. 

The thought is: with that many embryos, a doctor could study them and help you choose the most desirable ones. 

"That makes me a little anxious, because the idea to choose your baby if it doesn't turn out how you want, you might now want the baby anymore," questions one Houstonian. 

Dr. Sonja Kristiansen with Houston Fertility Center believes storing thousands of embryos would be difficult.

"I'm not quite sure that we can ever really practically get to that because of the storage space for these embryos.  I can't put your embryos next to Mr. and Mrs. Smith's embryos, so the storage space, the manpower, the costs for that much, then it is going to go up," states Dr. Kristiansen. She goes on to say that she also questions testing and how many people and how much time it would take to study them.

It's important to note, other countries are already looking into how to alter DNA to make us smarter.  Metzl believes the pressure will be on the US to keep up with countries like Russia and China with genetic enhancements. Many fear that "designer genes" would create a new and elite class of people.  "It reminds me of Brave New World!  If you aren't part of that class, you're lower class and it would change the whole world," says another Houstonian.

As the future of humanity hangs in the balance, technology futurist Jamie Metzl urges you to continue the conversation.  He says it's important for people to talk about it now.  He encourages you to let your legislators know how you feel about it now. He urges everyone to talk to churches or organizations you're involved with to get the conversation going now, before this technology becomes available.  You can even pipe-in on the conversation at his website.