Wired reported that BGI (used to be Beijing Genomics Institute) expect that within a decade their research into intelligence genes will be used to screen embryos during in vitro fertilization, boosting the IQ of unborn children by up to 20 points. Based on studies of twins, siblings, and adoption, contemporary estimates put the heritability of IQ at 50 to 80 percent, and recent studies that measure the genetic similarity of unrelated people seem to have pushed the estimate to the high end of that range.
Three years into the project, a team of four geneticists is crunching an initial batch of 2,000 DNA samples from high-IQ subjects, searching for where their genomes differ from the norm. Soon Zhao plans to get thousands more through Renmin—his former high school—as well as from other sources around the world. He believes that intelligence has a genetic recipe and that given enough samples—and enough time—his team will find it.
Steve Hsu theorizes there are as many as 10,000 different locations in the genome where a mutation can affect IQ. According to Hsu’s rough model, all humans carry a few hundred of those 10,000 possible mutations, and each mutation has a tiny negative cost to IQ, on the order of half an IQ point.
If this is right, then the difference between a brilliant 150-IQ person and an average 100-IQ person comes down to DNA typos at perhaps 100 of those 10,000 places.
Hsu is confident that through embryo screening during IVF, any genetic markers for intelligence that their team discovered would inevitably be used to select for more intelligent babies. Children tend to fall within a spread of 13 IQ points above and below the average IQ of their parents. But sometimes the apple can fall twice as far from the tree—that is, two parents with 100 IQs producing a child with an IQ of 126. Hsu puts the chance of such a positive outlier at around 2 or 3 percent, and it depends mostly on which sperm meets which egg.
If parents use IVF to conceive, then a genetic test—an extension of the screening tests for genetic diseases that are already routinely done on embryos—could let them pick the smartest genome from a batch of, say, 20 embryos (but it could 50 or more embryos).
Steve Hsu hopes progressive governments will make this procedure free for everyone. The benefits from increased economic output, decreased welfare and criminality rates, etc. far outweigh the costs.
Whole genome Sequencing costs are now below $1000 and heading towards $100 or less.
Shifting IQ by 20 points should drastically lower crime, poverty, unemployment and other social ills in the next generation
In order to really figure out intelligence we will have to figure out the brain. If people are interested in curing brain diseases like Alzheimers and Schizophrenia then through should be interested investigating the brain and genetics.
Some 40 to 75 percent of obesity cases can be accounted for by genes. About 5 percent can be tied to specific mutations that are relatively easy to select against. So genetic selection could also reduce obesity.
The embryo selection could also lead to large scale genetic editing using DNA writing like the new CRISPR rna guided technology. Being able to identify and then edit the 100 DNA intelligence typos could enable every new child to have IQs of 150+. The embryo selection could be chosen which might only need 50 DNA intelligence typos to be corrected.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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