Predict What Your Future Children Look Like in "Virtual Embryos"

Remember those slightly horrifying sites that mash up two faces to tell you what your hypothetical babies might look like? With genome sequencing and "virtual embryos," we might actually be able to do that—using science.

Those days are not quite here yet, but New Scientist has an intriguing report about a company called GenePeeks. We already screen for common genetic disorders by testing the DNA of prospective parents. GenePeeks goes one step further: its software takes the genome sequences of both parents to produce "10,000 simulated pairings"—in other words, 10,000 virtual, hypothetical children.

The company's current test only looks for disease risk, but, as New Scientist points out, its patent is much, much broader. Its technique could screen for any number of traits with a genetic basis, according to the patent, including skin color, breast size, hair texture, and even eyelash length. There are plenty of caveats to pick at, of course, like how siblings from the same family can look quite distinct or how the same kid raised in two different environments turns out differently.

But a world in which we can approximate hypothetical children is closer than you might think. Faces reconstructed from the DNA evidence left at, say, crimes scenes are already surprisingly accurate. In the future, you might very well be able to take anyone off the street and imagine what your progeny would look like. Or flick through profiles in a dating app while evaluating potential children—our genetic futures played out in virtual reality. [New Scientist]

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