BGI Shenzhen hopes to increase every generation's intelligence by five to 15 IQ points
Scientists from Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) have collected DNA from smart people in order to engineer genius babies.
Vice reports BGI scientists collected samples from 2,000 of the world’s smartest people to sequence their entire genomes in order to identify the alleles that determine human intelligence.
BGI is one of the world’s genome sequencing centres as well as being the biggest in China. The centre also works with plant genetics and animal genetics.
If successful, embryo screening will allow parents to select their brightest zygote. This could potentially increase every generation’s intelligence by five to 15 IQ points.
Evolutionary psychologist and lecture at NYU, Geoffrey Miller contributed his DNA to the project and spoke to Vice about the program.
Miller says the screening process of the DNA selected for the program comes mainly from people of Chinese and European descent. “[The centre is] basically recruiting through a scientific conference, through word of mouth,” said Miller. “You have to provide some evidence that you’re as smart as you say you are. You have to send your complete CV, publications you’ve produced, standardized-test scores, where you went to college… stuff like that.”
Explaining the process, Miller said, “Any given couple could potentially have several eggs fertilized in the lab with the dad’s sperm and the mom’s eggs. Then you can test multiple embryos and analyze which one’s going to be the smartest. That kid would belong to that couple as if they had it naturally, but it would be the smartest a couple would be able to produce if they had 100 kids. It’s not genetic engineering or adding new genes, it’s the genes that couples already have.”
This means that through the coming generations, scientists will be able to multiply the population’s intelligence. “Even if it only boosts the average kid by five IQ points, that’s a huge difference in terms of economic productivity, the competitiveness of the country, how many patents they get, how their businesses are run, and how innovative their economy is.”
Of course, this could potentially open the door to genetic engineering in the future, but Miller says this would take more time to make practical.
According to Miller, use of the technology to do embryo analysis could be implemented on a large scale could take just a few years, depending on how motivated the scientists are.
He also adds that this process could expand into other characteristics, which he argues is actually easier to do. “Almost any trait other than intelligence would be easier to do. We know that intelligence depends on lots of genes while physical traits—like hair or eye color—only depend on a few genes. Things like body shape would be easier to do, physical attractiveness would be pretty complicated, personality traits might be a little simpler than intelligence—how hard working somebody is, how impulsive, how politically liberal or conservative they are would be easier. How religious you are—that’s definitely influenced by genes to some degree.”
Compared to western research in genetics, China is far ahead according to Miller. He claims that China is collecting data on a much larger scale than the west and is capable of transforming scientific findings into government policy.
Miller also says that there is more of a moral boundary preventing the west from exploring this technology. “We have ideological biases that say, “Well, this could be troubling, we shouldn’t be meddling with nature, we shouldn’t be meddling with God.” I just attended a debate in New York a few weeks ago about whether or not we should outlaw genetic engineering in babies and the audience was pretty split. In China, 95 percent of an audience would say, “Obviously you should make babies genetically healthier, happier, and brighter!” There’s a big cultural difference.”