Pundits have been calling them “designer babies” since the first egg was fertilized and nurtured ex utero more than a quarter-century ago.  Little Louise Brown was her parents’ biological child, however, who happened to begin life in a test tube for medical reasons: Her mother’s Fallopian tubes were blocked.  Pioneering British physicians used laparoscopy to remove one of Mrs. Brown’s eggs, mixed it with Mr. Brown’s sperm, and placed it in a nutritive medium for about three days before implanting the tiny ball of dividing cells back into the mother’s body, where it thrived.

Many advances in biotechnology later, humans are on the verge of being able to craft embryos with preselected, even invented, traits.  Oddly, the same people who deny that God designed the universe have no problem with humans having a go at it.

Reproductive technology already permits the cloning of existing genomes.  In the nuclear-transfer method, a viable egg is suctioned, then electrically “fused” with another cell that need not be a gamete (sperm or egg).  Gametes or sex cells are haploid, with only 23 chromosomes, while somatic cells are diploid, with 46 chromosomes.  Having acquired its full complement of DNA, the recharged egg is chemically convinced it has been fertilized and starts to differentiate into an embryo.  So far, or so we are told, all human clones produced by this method have been destroyed after a brief study period.  Were one to be implanted into a womb, however, a woman could give birth to Napoleon, to one of the extinct Anasazi cave-dwellers, to her own sister, husband, grandfather, deceased child—or to herself.

Currently, the only way that in vitro-fertilized, cloned, or engineered embryos can survive to term is within the female reproductive system.  Women had better hope this stays the case, since the majority of scientists are men who are not likely to render their own sex obsolete before remaindering the opposite one.  Once scientists are routinely able to induce stem cells to behave like ova, then grow them into fetuses outside the womb, ’tis the abolition of women we will be looking at.

Women might want to ask for a redo of the recent study published in Science that shows they rate “taking care of their children” lower than “intimate relations,” “socializing,” “relaxing,” “exercising,” “watching television,” or “preparing food”—and scarcely higher than “housework,” “employment,” or even “commuting.”  Men might rightly ask why they have to put up with women when the latter cannot even do their one important job decently.

However that may be, cloning, which is essentially a form of “virgin birth” or parthenogenesis, is an old trick by now; the new trick is to figure out how to customize, micromanage, and engineer the DNA package itself.  “Growing” DNA in millions of cells at once and scanning them for the genetic characteristics (genotype) you seek is orders of magnitude quicker than breeding entire animals (phenotype).  New Scientist notes that, at the cellular level, “much rarer and more subtle . . . manipulation can be accomplished, such as replacing one gene for another, or changing a single DNA letter of a gene.”

One more precise technique is “gene splicing” or recombinant DNA.  Thousands of “restriction” enzymes exist, each of which “recognizes” a single nucleotide sequence; these enzymes function like scissors, snipping the A-C-G-T base pairs and unraveling the double helix so that other gene sequences can be inserted.  Afterward, the chain is repaired with the enzyme ligase.  Either a new creature can result, or the altered cell can be used as a factory to mass-produce substances such as insulin.

The most common and blatant characteristic currently selected for, of course, is “gender,” once known as sex.  In nature, male births run slightly higher than female, a mysterious phenomenon that compensates for the universally higher mortality rates among male infants, boys, and men.  The proportion of male to female conceptions is even higher, since males account for the majority of stillbirths, perhaps because the mother’s body is more prone to attack male tissue as “alien” in utero.

Once humans engage in sex selection, this compensating balance rapidly collapses.  In the West, experience already suggests that the preferred sex will be female.  Western societies so heavily reward and reinforce feminine behaviors such as risk-aversion, docility, cooperation, sedentariness, verbalism, passive aggression, orientation toward “personalities” and “feelings,” tolerance for busywork (and did I mention need to shop?) that parents choosing which embryo(s) to retain during fertility treatment opt more often for girls.

Why wouldn’t they?  No caring parent wants to give his child a tough row to hoe in life.  Besides, as feminists like to sneer, who wants to inflict more testosterone poisoning on our unquiet world?  As feminists see it, men are forever making messes, and women are forever having to clean them up.  That’s history for you: one damn mess after another.  Ritalin and Adderall and other ADHD medications counteract the ill effects of testosterone, yet surely a more permanent solution is in order.

Giving birth to a son, in some circles, is rather like miscegenation in the Old South: It happens, but Lord knows it’s nothing to be proud of.  Some women who have had or know they will be having boys actually write agonized little apologias in trendy journals to the girlfriends whom they have “betrayed” by such a grievous lapse of political correctness.  (A moment of silence here for their unfortunate sons.)

In the rest of the world, though, it is daughters for whom we need to pray.  Up until recently in such societies as China, India, and Bangladesh, the ancient art of exposure was widely practiced.  Then ultrasound and chorionic villus sampling (CVS) became available, which make child’s play of eliminating unwanted baby girls.  China’s ratio of male-to-female births is completely out of whack now, and India’s is also unbalanced.

Girls are considered a burden throughout the Third World.  Particularly where families are permitted no more than one child, as in China, the traditional custom of sons caring for their parents in old age while daughters are “lost” (becoming the caretakers of their husbands’ parents) makes having a son an absolute necessity.  Unfortunately, dear old Mom and Dad forgot to worry about whom Junior was supposed to marry when he grew up.

In Muslim lands, girls are not as discouraged, because polygamy can absorb the extras.  But polygamy also means a lot of young men are price-squeezed out of the marriage market, an oversight that feeds not only the vein-bulging passion for jihad but the pressure to trek elsewhere in search of a mate.

Thus, the combination of polygamy and excess male births in the Third World is building an enormous wave of unattached young males, a wave that is already breaking on the shores of the feminized Old and New Worlds.  This particular “clash of civilizations”—more like a shotgun marriage of civilizations—will make the Rape of the Sabine Women look like a middle-school dance.  It may well change the face of the world’s races the old-fashioned way, much more emphatically than all the in vitro techniques put together.

Speaking of racial transformation, the Human Genome Project (HGP), having mapped at least a pretty good impression of the human species’ 2.9 billion nucleotide sequences, has begun searching for racial markers among the fewer than one percent of nucleotides whose locations seem to differ from one race to another.  The HGP’s motive is noble—to tailor drug treatments more effectively to individuals based on their genes—but its new search has the usual crybabies blubbering that “genetic explanations might obscure the all-too-real social and economic causes” of various embarrassing racial differences such as criminality, IQ, and parenting style.  (See “The Genome in Black and White [and Gray],” by Robin Marantz Henig, New York Times Magazine, October 10, 2004.)

Any discovery of biological differences between races, whine the censors, will be used to stigmatize people and let White Racist Society off the hook.  Besides, race is a myth, “a cultural construct without any biological significance,” Henig muses:

Looking for racial genetic markers does indeed risk creating categories that can get us in trouble. . . . Could it be that this terrain is too dangerous to let anyone, no matter how well meaning, try to navigate it?

Henig apparently finds it quite palatable to shut down entire domains of scientific inquiry, lest some “pernicious,” “loathsome” truth be stumbled upon.  Yet, if social and economic causes are “all too real,” why have they never been able to explain away what the Race-Is-Mythical crowd wants them to explain away?

The aspect of the HGP’s quest that piques my interest here is that, if drugs and genes are being taught to read and amend the genetic code, race itself might also be erased, “overcome,” by genetic therapy.  Race has been such an unhappy motif in the human comedy; if anything is to be abolished, let it be race.

If there turn out to be genes for homosexuality, how long will it be before homosexual couples start designing their own “gay” offspring, giving a whole new meaning to interior decorating?  Those who worry about the thousands of young children who have already been adopted by homosexuals—a fast-approaching scandal whose dimensions are going to dwarf those of priestly pedophilia—will have even less power to protect the victims of such private decisions to take advantage of “reprogenetics.”

At least five children have already been born in the United States to serve as stem-cell donors for older siblings suffering from genetic disorders.  They began life as embryos subjected to “preimplantation genetic diagnosis” to test for tissue compatibility.  New Scientist reports (May 2004) that “stem cells from the child’s umbilical cord are used.  If an existing sibling were a tissue-match, they would have to have cells taken from their bone marrow.”  There is no benefit to the donor embryo, but there is risk.  From this step, how far is it really to the creation of clones solely for tissue and organ harvesting?

The possibilities of biotechnology are almost unimaginable.  Five things, however, are sure: First, whatever can be done will be done before it is over.  Second, a lot more has already been done than has been acknowledged.  Third, most of the information gathered on individuals’ DNA will be used to terminate the preborn and to deny rights and opportunities to the born (education, jobs, insurance, reproduction, etc.).  Fourth, folks who jump in to choose the sex, height, complexion, hair and eye color, intelligence, and other traits of their offspring will be accused of “unabashed expressions of sexism and racism.”  In fact, they already have been, by one Jonathan M. Berkowitz.

And fifth, much less attention will be paid to eugenics, in the end, than to personal, individual immortality.  Given a choice between improving the species and living forever, man cannot resist the latter.  He will clone himself over and over, until the chromosomes lose their code, and death its sting, and the salt of the earth its savor.